Actions

Work Header

Fake It 'Til You Make It

Chapter Text

        “Oh, don’t be a cry baby! ” 

      The ebony hedgehog cringed as his batshit crazy sister slapped his chest roughly. Any normal person would fall flat on their tail if she hit them, but Shadow was no ordinary person. Which only made the situation the bat was putting him in a thousand times worse. 

      Fixing his shirt collar that the other had effectively messed up, Shadow began buttoning the collar all the way up again. Rouge huffed, shaking her head.

            “You could use this party as a means to pick up a hot stud, yet here you are , blocking yourself - and your layer of glorious fluff - off to the rest of the world. How are you going to make any friends if you are so uptight, hun?”

      As nagging as she was, her tone became incredibly soft by the end of her speech, and her eyes took on a worried tone. Shadow hated that tone, because it looked akin to pity. He’d prefer not to have sympathy currently, he was already uncomfortable as it was.

                “I’ll stay for an hour, and then leave. It’s a better step than thrusting myself into an unfamiliar situation, forcing myself to blend in where I clearly don’t belong. I’ll get used to socializing for longer, eventually.”

      This seemed to ease the worry off Rouge’s face, and she patted his shoulder with a reassuring nod. The bat took one more once over his appearance. He wore a loose off-black button up, rolled up at the sleeves. He adorned that dumb old man’s watch he never takes off, but at least his grey jeans were ripped and he wore a non-threatening looking pair of combat boots. Well, as non-threatening as they could be, considering they were standard military issued.

      It won the honorary ‘You tried to look less like a stick is up your ass’ award. To be fair, after Rouge scolded him to untuck the shirt from his jeans, he looked drop-dead gorgeous. It was unfair how unnaturally pretty her brother was, and she made sure every chance she got she raised his self esteem on that. 

      Just because he had problems, didn’t mean he didn’t deserve to find love - temporary or long term romance - just like everyone else. She had to remind herself, though, that some people didn’t prefer romance or sexual encounters. If she had to guess, though, from the confidential things Shadow has shared with her a few years ago, he had a heart ready to flourish. It was somewhere in there, underneath the surface of tension and apprehension, and she has witnessed it first hand several times. 

      The ebony hedgehog might have an ego the size of the moon, and he acknowledges he is above average in appearance, intelligence, and strength - But for some reason he doesn’t seem to act with as much confidence as he feigns. His taste in men is also altogether wild, but she supposed everyone has their preferences. Not that Shadow was even looking , anyways. Mental health comes first, after all. Still, it’d help if he could build back some social confidence. In her opinion it never hurt to flirt a little, but Shadow has always been bad at that, too. 

            ‘It probably has something to do with the fact he hasn’t socialized with another real mobian or person other than his therapist in who knows how long.’ 

      Rouge shook her head though, and smiled. That therapist was doing him good. Just last week he refused to leave unless it was for a grocery trip, and just last year he didn’t even leave his room in the garage, let alone the house, unless he needed to use a toilet. 

      Once outside of their house, Shadow turned towards the van, expecting once again Rouge would insist on being the one to drive. Especially since Shadow’s evasion of proper laws when driving, as well as his lack of license, always gets them in more trouble than it was worth. 

      It took a moment to register that Rouge had not followed him due to this very reason. Routine was something he prided himself on, but it was always embarrassing regardless when he didn’t notice something out of place until the last second. 

      In fact, the hedgehog prided himself most on superb reflexes, he grew up in a military family after all. That still doesn’t get rid of the ruined concentration that comes with habits and unexpected situations, and the anxiety those things tend to bring him. Turning his head around, he watched her open the garage with horror. There was a pit growing in his stomach, and it felt like all his organs were getting sucked into it like a black hole.

                “Rouge, what the everloving hell are you doing?!”

      The seductive bat just hummed and shimmied her hips back inside the dark garage. Shadow took one last look at the van that they should be boarding inside of and how it reflected the stars of the night sky, before following her with broad, hurried steps. He’d rather be in the safety of a cushiony 2016 Honda Pilot, not following his insane sister into his garage. 

      There, inside said garage, sat his Aprilia Tuono V4 motorcycle, fully modded by him for break-neck speeds and dangerous stunts. It was given to him for his 16th birthday, and he had on and off worked on making it the best of the best. It was his pride and joy, not that he’d ever admit that to someone aloud.

      Rouge didn’t have to get him to admit it, though. She knew the long hours he spent bent over it, covered in grease and grime, trying to get it to be faster and to look sleeker. She had to drag him away to eat, and on the worst nights, bring his dinner to him. Often times the morning after, the food would be still sitting in the same place, long cold, and Shadow in the same hunched over spot she left him in when going to bed that night. 

      Of course, Shadow could also buy the newer models of bikes, too. There are certainly faster models, more equipped brands of motorcycle that are built for speed. This motorcycle, however, was special to him. If anything were to happen to it - scuffing, a broken chain, a flat tire, a malfunctioned engine, anything he’d have to replace - he’d literally explode. 

      Additions weren’t a problem, but there was no way in hell he was going to take anything away from his precious fixation. Which was why, when Rouge sat on it so casually without a care in the world, Shadow nearly had an aneurysm on the spot. 

                “ YOU KNOW NOT TO SIT ON THAT! ” 

      He rushes over to push her off, but she sticks up both hands in a defensive ‘alright alright’ gesture before hopping off the bike. Still, she didn’t back down on what she was going to suggest. 

           “You need to actually use the gift you were given, Shadow. Your therapist said living life was about actually going out and doing it, not keeping things locked up on the shelf and suspended in the past, right?” 

      For several minutes, Shadow stayed silent as he looked down at the motorcycle thoughtfully. It was so painfully silent that Rouge almost thought about backing down from the suggestion. It was probably a bad idea to try and push his comfort zone so soon, not when he’s been making such progress. What if she only sets him back another step in recovery? If anything were to happen to that bike, he would likely be as lost as he was two years ago. 

      None of this was voiced though, the ebony hedgehog sighing as he pulled out his small keychain and unlocked the motorcycle’s functions, the bat nearly glowing with excitement for her brother. 

      She knew the keys in his pocket was a safety charm of sorts for him, but usually it didn’t have the little star charms on it. Usually, it hurt too much to even look at those charms. It felt like she was staring at her real best friend again, and it was too much for her to handle all in one night already. When thrown a slick black protective helmet, she huffed under her breath about having to ruin her hair, but it hardly mattered since she knew the wind was going to do that anyways.

                “You’re right. She would want me to put good use to it. Besides, it’s worth it.”

      Shadow’s face took on a malicious look to it, and Rouge almost regretted hopping on the motorcycle behind him. She knew that look, and nothing good ever came from the evil glint in those ruby irises. Without even having to be told, she held a tight death grip onto his torso, not feeling modest at all about clinging to her big bro’s back. 

               “ Worth seeing you wish you never suggested it, that is.

     Without being able to get a word in edgewise, the cocky remark on Rouge’s lips died before it was even born, and a thunderous sound erupted throughout the garage. Literally seconds later, they were several miles down the road, and Rouge had to struggle to keep her eyes closed. It felt like the wind was trying to blow them open and melt her eyes out of her skull, and she swore to get herself protective goggles or something for future rides. The glorious laughter she was holding in her chest bubbled out regardless, though, no stranger to enjoying risky late night drives.

     When the backroads opened up into the glorious city night not long after, the speed of the motorcycle died down momentarily like she knew it would. Being able to finally let out the breath she was holding, she loosened her arms around Shadow, trying to peak and see if she could see the melancholic look on his face. 

     It was hard from this angle, but from his body language and the way his face was twitching, she could tell he was getting emotional about the sights before him. Someone ordinary would never be able to tell that Shadow the Hedgehog was an emotional person, but she wasn’t ordinary. Neither of them were, really.

     Underneath that straight faced demeanor held one of the most emotional people she’s ever met. So when he had finally drank in his fair share of the city after a few more minutes, Rouge wasn’t surprised to feel the roar of the motorcycle again. With that, they were off, speeding between larger vehicles and breaking every traffic law violation there ever was. 

      It was a shame, Shadow was such a great driver, reactive and preventive of any possible accidents both for his person and those around him. Safety mattered to him more than others might think, not ever wanting to harm another unless it was necessary. 

     However, the laws he fails to abide to don’t consider him safe in any standards, statistics or otherwise, so despite passing the on-paper portion of the test every time, he’s never been able to pass a single driving portion of the test. The moment he drove out of the parking lot and onto a real road, he’s instantly flunked despite not technically endangering anyone. 

     The bat closed her eyes, resting her head on the quills of his shoulder blades. They got even softer and less sharp at the touch of her face against them, and the smile on her face only grew wider at the subconscious gentleness of it. Rouge hoped, with a stabbing pinch in her heart, that one day everyone will realize how sensitive and caring her brother truly was. 

     There was no one she trusted her life with more than the ebony hedgehog, even if his outer layer is full of aggressive tendencies and self destructive behaviors. As they pulled up to the college part of the city, she patted his chest where she knew his chest fluff was. The hedgehog slowed down immediately, allowing her to rattle off directions. 

     When they turned down the street they were meant to be on, Rouge purposefully neglected to tell him they were approaching the house, and instead leaned forward more.

            “Hey, Shadow?”

     The hedgehog turned his head slightly to the right to throw her a momentary contemplative look before turning his attention back to the road. When he realized she wasn’t going to follow up without an answer, he hummed a simple ‘hm?’

     Rouge seemed to be waiting for something, and what that was, he wasn’t sure of. When she finally spoke, it surprised him how calm and collected she sounded with her request.

            “Could you do that thing you do? Where you burn the rubber while turning?”

     Shadow took a few seconds to process what she was talking about, before taking a nervous deep breath.

                “You want me to do a turning burnout and a drift? Rouge, you know that can mess with the tires-”

            “Just until the end of the street? It wouldn’t hurt to do once. You know you miss doing it.” 

      The hedgehog slowed down even further, chewing his lip for a split second before taking another deep breath. You know what? If she was here, she’d want to see it too. Rouge had a point, it won’t hurt to do once. It won’t wear the tires out completely, and he truly did miss doing motorcycle tricks. 

     Ignoring the ‘this isn’t safe’ voice inside of his head, he reared up his engine again and could hear Rouge yelling a ‘WOOHOO’ behind him, her legs clutching the side of his hips to keep steady while she lifted her hands up in the air. 

     He reared the accelerator while pressing on the brakes, and steam pulled off the tires before he released them. Suddenly, they were being propelled forward with a wheelie, something he wasn’t asked of but felt was necessary to do. Once they popped back down on the ground on both tires, he drifted across the pavement in a moment of flare. Rouge’s arms were now glued back to the hedgehog’s torso, a vice-like grip of her limbs on him being the only thing not sending her literally flying. 

     The drift also held true to its braking capabilities as they reached the curb at break-neck speeds, turning his vehicle fully now as though he was going to parallel park alongside it. Shadow pressed viciously against the brakes, kicking up pavement rubble as well as causing the same burning rubber scent to penetrate the air.

     Just before reaching the curb, the bike almost completely stopped, and to avoid scuffing any of his motorcycle’s paint Shadow released a foot off one of the pedals to press his combat boot roughly against the side of the road. The impact sent shock waves up from his calf, all the way into his thigh, but the feeling hardly registered. His heart was pounding in his chest as he felt the remnants of adrenaline still soaring through him, and Rouge wasted no time in cackling like the madwoman she was.

                They could’ve died if he didn’t slow down fast enough, they could’ve been killed, if Rouge didn’t hold on tight enough she’d be - He could’ve broken his leg on the curb if - and that wheelie was so uncalled for, and- 

           “HUN! THAT WAS AMAZING! YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL! I forgot how great you are with these things! Like damn, you really could be a stunt driver!” 

     The paranoid thoughts didn’t dissipate however until she slapped his back so hard he nearly coughed up spit. He glared at her, but the glare died down when he realized there were several adults peeking out of the house in front of them, staring in awe and admiration. 

     His blood ran cold as he whispered harshly to her.

               “You had me do this on purpose.

     Rouge smiled sheepishly and purred a quick apology, before slipping off the bike and grabbing his wrist. Before Shadow could tug away and refuse to go inside after that embarrassing display, she had practically glided the rest of the way, dragging him inside. 

     How she learned to pull such a heavy and tall hedgehog around with her at such a quick turn around time hardly even mattered, because suddenly Shadow’s senses were hit by several different sources of stimulation at once. Bass boosted rock music, crowds and crowds of people covering every inch of the room, voice after voice pelting his sensitive ears and several people accidentally bumping into him - flashing lights everywhere he looked in an array of rainbow colors. 

     Something about “follow your rainbow” or something was all Shadow could make out from the lyrics before he felt himself growing dizzier and dizzier at all the suddenly moving shapes. It felt like he was going to be sick, wrinkling his nose all the way up to show it, but Rouge paid him no mind and dragged him to a relatively safer corner of the room, sitting him down at a kitchen bar isle on a stool.

            “Okay, look at me and forgive me for not telling you the size of the party, alright?”

     She gripped his shoulders, and behind the rage he held in his eyes, was the tense shaking of his shoulders. She knew he was one wrong move from having a panic attack, and realized her mistake possibly far too late. She thought that as long as she could get him in here and find a distraction, the hedgehog would do just fine. 

     Rouge didn’t let her mistake show on her face though. Doubt would only make him set into a panic even more, and then he’d demand to leave and that would drop his confidence in social situations even further back. She was not going to be the reason why he didn’t leave his room for two months, not again at least. 

                “You told me that it was just a party with the people you went to highschool with.”

      Rouge sheepishly smiled at his accusatory tone, but the quiet tightness of it made the rage in it almost too hard to hear over the loud music.

           “I have a big class, Big Blue is popular, after all.” 

      Shadow had no idea what she meant by blue being popular. What did a color have to do with any of this? Rouge went on about the party and some of the people in it, likely in an attempt to get his mind off of things. It wasn’t working very well as you can notice, his eyes instead focusing on scanning the room around them.

     It felt like he was making eye contact with people far too easily, and that set red alarms off in his head. Was it because of the motorcycle trick that he did? He wasn’t trying to, but most of them looked spooked off by whatever look he was throwing them. Presumably, it was a glare. Shadow couldn’t help it, his face felt stiff, his eye ridges permanently furrowed on his forehead.

     It was the music, the constant sounds, the whole entire distracting array of people. Finally, he began realizing that he wasn’t the only reason people kept trying to look at him, as he felt his blood boiling when someone gave his sister a particularly hungry look. Realizing that meant someone would eventually try and flirt with her right in front of him, he felt a conflict arising in his conscious.

    Rouge came to these kinds of parties to flirt and have fun, but if someone came up to flirt with her not knowing he was her brother, he most likely would not be able to stop himself before his fist met their face. The executive decision was made instantly, his own comfort thrown out the window for the sake of Rouge’s enjoyment. Whatever the bat was saying got interrupted as he spoke a bit too loudly and roughly, nearly demanding in tone.

                “Go talk to other people.”

      Throwing him a look of shock, he only hardened his gaze and glared holes into her.

                “If I have to see one more person look at you, I might literally fucking puke.”

      This made her smirk wickedly, the bat throwing her head back to cackle. Shadow didn’t see what was so funny, it was sickening the way people viewed his sister as eye candy. It was harmless when she wanted it, but he couldn’t comprehend why what she wore in itself was begging to be acknowledged. Other people need to mind their business, her tits could be hanging out and it still wouldn’t warrant their eyes glued to her in that sickening way they tended to. Rouge didn’t mind though, so he tried to force it out of his mind for the time being.

     That’s why he needed to send her away, he’d find something to occupy him when she’s gone, even though Shadow hardly felt safe in a crowd of people who occasionally threw him odd looks. 

            “I’ll come back to check up on you, but if it gets too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to come get me, okay? We can leave at any time, you being here right now is still a bigger step than any of the others you’ve taken, hun.”

     Shadow simply grunted his understanding, swiveling his chair around to look at the kitchen aisle. He could picture the frown she was most likely giving him, but he didn’t look up at it when she patted his back and sauntered away. He knew how it looked, sitting here staring at the counter, but he swore he was fine.

     He could do this, just an hour of this and things would be back to normal, back at home without any loud sounds that makes him want to rip his ears off. At a particularly loud song transition, he could feel the bones in his knees creak at how tightly he held his posture. They were begging to be pulled up into a cradle position, but he saved himself the humiliation by slamming his own hands on his knees to hold them in place. 

    Shadow realized too late he needed something to ground him, and quick. His eyes searched around until he noticed some younger dude coming by, he couldn’t even question why a mere child was here currently, just quickly grabbing him by the arm. The yellow fox looked up in a mix of fear and offense as he yelped, before Shadow grabbed the solo cup from his hand. When it looked as though the two tailed fox wasn’t going to go running in fear, Shadow hurriedly barked out his more than aggressive sounding explanation.

                “I need this, don’t ask questions.”

     That seemed to satiate the kid, and he said something under his breath that in this loud environment, Shadow couldn’t hear. With one last glare, the fox’s expression turned timid before fleeing back into the crowd. From all the way across the room, a certain blue hedgehog was watching the scene unbeknownst of Shadow. He frowned, excusing himself from the conversation he was having with a certain red wolf. 

     When the ebony hedgehog noticed him approaching, he had just finally shaken off some other random person who seemingly thought it was a good idea to approach him about his motorcycle tricks earlier. That person had been wrong, and had fled past Sonic as fast as he could.

     The glare the blue hedgehog was being welcomed with didn’t affect him, though. He was not just going to follow suit with the dude who just ran with his tail between his legs. If this mysterious hedgehog thought he could intimidate Sonic away like he had with everyone else, he was dead wrong.

                    “Hey there pal, got an issue?

     He leaned against the bar table, trying to do his best friendly grin despite the playful hostility in his tone. Shadow finally turned away from Sonic, looking at the farthest wall away from them instead, swishing the liquid in his stolen cup. Sonic watched as he eyed it like it was more important than him, and it bristled his quills.

     Shadow, on the other hand, didn’t care if everyone had a problem with his behavior. It was better this way, right? The less people talking to him as if they were buddy buddy, the better. Sure, he was supposed to be here to get used to social situations, but he felt as though he could make an exception considering the size of the party. He doubted even Rouge thought he was ready to be here, and he hoped she was enjoying herself instead of worrying to death.

                    “ So, you just going to ignore me all night? At least entertain a guy a little.”

     Shadow simply grunted, shooting Sonic a side glance. The other was wearing a baggy light blue hoodie that hung off his shoulders, and a loose black nike tank top underneath. His jeans looked tight and ripped at one of the knees, with a pair of comfy looking nike vans on. 

                “It’s easy to ignore a corporate sell out.” 

      Sonic looked genuinely shocked he got a response, and he smirked, taking a seat next to the ebony hedgehog. Shadow instantly turned to glare him down. His response was not an invitation, and he made sure to convey that in his eyes.

                     “Can’t help it, they’re funding my scholarship. Thought I’d celebrate being able to afford going to the same college as all my best buddies by flaunting the brand that got me in.”

      Oh, so he wasn’t only a brand fanboy but he was also a huge brag. Honestly, Shadow wasn’t going to play that game with the other. Sonic can flaunt all he wants, he’s not going to get praise or a ‘congratulations’ from him. That would only fuel him to hang around longer.

     Instead, he just grunted his response and actually left it to that. Instead, he kept focusing on the way the punch looked in his solo cup. The erratic lighting of the party made it dark, but the red color reflected on the inside of the cup. He scowled at how much it reminded him of blood, but grounding was grounding, right?

              “Rouge told me you’re a year older than her?”

     Great, this idiot not only can’t take a hint, but he also is trying to use his sister as a conversation starter. When Shadow didn’t respond, he hoped Sonic would possibly grow bored and leave, but when he saw the other hedgehog open his mouth again that hope died just about as fast as the last bits of sanity he had left tonight. 

               “Applied for any colleges yet?”

     The question grated on his nerves. He wondered if Rouge ever talked about him and the fact he was homeschooled all his life, or his short lived services, or that he has taken a few college courses online already but has no interest in applying for a degree or anything serious like that.

     Shadow didn’t have time to waste on trivial matters. The classes he took didn’t help him with his end goal, anyways. Nothing lasts forever, and even with all the knowledge in the world, he couldn’t fix what had already been set in stone.

               “I’m not sure honestly what I want to do yet, I’ve looked into various things and I’m really only going for the track team’s notoriety. I like to live a free life, but that’s kind of hard to do when you’ve got to make money somehow.”

    Ah, that’s right. Money. Shadow could care less about that sort of thing, but he supposed others didn’t have such a fortunate financial situations. Not that Shadow would call his situation fortunate in any means, considering where the money had come from. No, it wasn’t his money and he didn’t want it, and yet it belonged to him anyways. It was entrusted to him, and every time he thought about it, he felt like pulling his quills out. Money was not a topic he wanted to talk about with anyone

    Several moments stretched out between them, and the ebony hedgehog could feel people’s eyes on him again. They had died down at his attempts at getting them leave him alone, mostly because he’s sure he’s more hostile looking than usual in his anxiety, but now people were looking at him again.

     Was it Sonic? What in Chaos’ name could be so important about some likely 18 year old hedgehog? Or maybe it was more so a surprise to them that Shadow hadn’t chased someone away within seconds of interacting with them?

     When Shadow realized he had been staring at the blue hedgehog for far too long, he averted his eyes back to his cup and chewed on the inside of his mouth. When Sonic spoke up, he expected to be called out for it, but instead he got something completely different. 

                 “You know, I understand what those grunts of your’s mean. I used to be mute as a kid, for example, so like. If you want honesty hour, I’ll be the first to admit I get it. Talkin’ ain’t as easy as all the infomercials make it seem.” 

      Shadow lifted an eye ridge at this. While he wanted to question Sonic further on what he was rambling on about, like what fucking infomercials? Why doesn't anyone ever say what they actually mean for once? However, it seemed rude and too personal to pry into. The ebony hedgehog didn’t want personal, he didn’t want friends, and he certainly didn’t want Sonic being so chummy with him. 

      So instead of taking the bait, he scoffed and turned his head away. For some reason, though, he couldn’t simply ignore the other. So he switched tactics and instead tried to go the condescending route. That one always made everyone and anyone leave, after all. 

                “Oh yeah? And what do the grunts mean, if you’re such an intellectual on tone and body language?”

     Now looking at the blue hedgehog, Shadow intently waited for any reaction of being off put. Apparently, he wasn’t aggressive or sarcastic enough in his tone, because the other male was seemingly contemplating his response.

                      “Well, it says you’re so incredibly wrapped up in your own mind and feelings all the time, that you aren’t really looking at what’s going on around you. It’s sad, you should learn to live your life a bit more carefree. Can’t blame you, though, this doesn’t really seem like your scene. I can picture you in a quiet library or not-crowded small town cafe, not some highschool graduation party.” 

      The response shook Shadow, and knew it was the beginning of a long string of conversations that would throw him for a loop. His therapist had always told him he had issues expressing himself, and that verbal communication would help. However, he had not verbally communicated anything, and yet this pesky annoying hedgehog had read him like an open book.

The sheepish smile on the other’s face seemed to only tell him that Sonic didn’t even know how spot on he was. At least, not on the deeper level Shadow took them. Perhaps he only meant that Shadow was busy in his own mind instead of enjoying a party, not that he had issues with constantly being agonized in his own thoughts and anxieties. That those said thoughts and anxieties truly did prevent him from living in the present day and having a carefree life like some others did.

      Still, the words hanging in the air were beginning to get too stuffy between them, but it was too awkward to reply to it so late. He couldn’t even excuse the long pause on the loud crowd around them, all of them chatting and having fun while Shadow felt an inner battle rage on inside of him. That’s right, fun. Shadow scoffed again, forgetting he was in the company of another while openly feeling the hatred about the whole situation boiling over once again.

                “You’ve got one thing right and one thing wrong. I do hate this party, but not because of my non-verbalized aforementioned preferences.”

     Sonic genuinely lifted his eye ridges at that, seeming shocked. For some reason, shock looked better on the other hedgehog far better than the goofy, laid back grin he was just giving Shadow moments before. Was it because the grinning was fake, or was it because it held some other hidden meaning behind it? The ebony hedgehog really couldn’t decipher.

                    “Oh, how come, if you don’t mind me asking Sir Shadow of the night? I’m Sonic, by the way, in case you didn’t know.”

      Shadow snorted, rolling his eyes as he swished the liquid in his cup again. It was a comforting sound, and it grounded him. Kept him here instead of out of his mind or body. He didn’t want or care about Sonic’s name, and yet it instantly got filed into his mind. Committed to memory, like the back of his hand. That thought aggravated him more than this damn party did.

                “It fucking sucks, what else is there to say? I don’t even have to say why, it just reeks of shit, and that’s because it is shit. I have half a mind to find the owner and tell it to their face.”

      Sonic leaned against the bar isle in front of him, slumping in his kitchen stool. For a split second, Shadow could’ve sworn Sonic almost looked offended or outraged, but a mischievous glint in his eyes replaced it almost immediately. That grin was back, full force, and so was Shadow’s anxiety and irritation.

                    “ Oh, is that so? I mean, I get you. The party really does seem to suck, and let me just say, the owner of the party is one of those really annoying jock types. Never shuts up, too. He’s really stubborn, though. Can make a friend out of anyone, and gets what he wants, when he wants it. A free spirit, but man, he’s not coordinated enough for this dumb party stuff. Say, I should introduce ya both! I know he loves a good challenge, if you’re willing to fight him on it.” 

      The ebony hedgehog was thrown back for a split second at the whole line of dialogue he was given. What was this blue nuisance even talking about? Not only did he talk animatedly with his hands, but he also seemed to be putting a lot of emphasis on certain words. The weird shape of Sonic’s hand gestures were familiar, but he couldn’t quite place where he’s seen them before. 

      Shadow couldn’t tell if his words were genuine or not, and that part bothered him the most of all, just like that dumb fucking grin that never left his face the whole time. Those eyes held a challenge in them, and Shadow wanted nothing to do with it. He thought he almost had the other leaving with his statement before, but it looks like he had to be more unsociable.

                “Well, tell whoever the owner of party is that he can shove that fighting spirit up his own ass. I don’t make friends. I’m only here due to obligatory reasons.”

      A simple ‘hmmm’ sound of acknowledgement came from the blue hedgehog, as he pursed his lips in the most sassy, annoying way he possibly could. Did this guy really have nothing better to do other than to aggravate him all night? 

      Although, Shadow couldn’t lie. During this whole interaction, his anxiety had begun to dissipate. Sure, certain things Sonic was saying and doing were spiking it, as well, but it’s easier to be anxious over one person’s actions than a whole room’s. 

      It was almost as grounding as the sound and sight of liquid in his stolen cup, to focus on one person at a time like Rouge was trying to get him to do earlier with her. It felt like the eyes of the room had resumed doing whatever eyes of other people tended to do when they weren’t on him, and all there was, was Sonic.

      The laid back, irritating, ethereal-looking hedgehog with shining bright emerald eyes. It felt like they were trying to analyze him, eating up everything he had to offer. Shadow had no idea what it was Sonic was looking for in him, but it felt like he knew deep down why the other hedgehog was doing it. 

       Really, there wasn’t anything he could give Sonic, not because he had nothing to provide, but because there was nothing he was willing to give the other that could possibly mean all that much. Not as much as the hungry look in Sonic’s eyes seemed to suggest, that is.

                    “If you’re not here to make friends, why are you still looking at me like I’m a snack, hm? Interesting, how you seem to be soul searching in my face if you’re not one to make friends and all.”

      Shadow physically jumped out of his own thoughts at that accusation, feeling his whole entire face flare up. That wasn’t fair, when Sonic was looking at him like that as well. He’d been caught, and he knew it, but instead of admitting to his fault he just snorted in the best dismissive manner he could. If Rouge was here, she’d scold him for acting stuck up. 

                “As if I was looking at your face of all places. This party is just boring me to death, and I had no other places to stare off into space.”

      Catching a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, he could see the other bristling at that comment, but just like before Sonic seemed to hold his tongue and instead smirk wider. The look in his eye had Shadow turning towards him fully again, and he felt genuinely nervous. His eyes couldn’t help but glue to the way Sonic adjusted himself in his seat.

      Not that his outer shell would show such a thing, since the ebony hedgehog had schooled his features to a poker face. On the inside, however, those glistening eyes were drawing him in. Something that he thought must be akin to panic wrapped it’s way into his gut and had his heart doing flips. 

                    “Oh, a real party animal , are ya? Didn't think you to be the type. Tell me, how would you do better?”

      Was…. Was he really challenging him over a battle that wasn’t his to make? Perhaps this hedgehog was just trying to defend the host’s honor, but it was a pathetic mistake. Shadow couldn’t help but smirk back, although his was possibly far more snarky and menacing than Sonic’s. It wasn’t his intention, it was his nerves doing all the talking for him now.

               “Considering the fact Rouge’s parties, for one, at least tend to have alcohol? I’d say I could do a whole lot better. Especially since the party is never confined to one singular location with a bunch of raving just-barely adults. In fact, there was a kid running around here, as well. Is the host even regulating who he lets through that damn door?”

      The challenge in Sonic’s eyes dimmed at that, as he leaned in with genuine curiosity. There it was, a genuine emotion that Shadow could actually read for once. Was that what was making him so uneasy? The intense range of emotions Sonic seemed to have but not express, hidden behind some strange grin he couldn’t quite place? 

                   “Not just one place , huh? You like to get down to business in several places, hm? A night on the town kind of hedgehog?”

     Yet, something about the grin oddly reminded him of Rouge and her strange persuasion tactics…. What would Sonic be trying to persuade from him? He hardly heard what Sonic had said, too busy furrowing his eye ridges in concentration. What was the other trying to gain from him? If it was friendship he wanted, there were plenty other candidates more willing than him in this room.

     His eyes kept trailing to the other hedgehog’s lips, and once he realized what was said to him, they snapped back up to meet emerald eyes that had grown too impatient in waiting for a reply. 

                   “Man, this party must really suck if you’re getting distracted by my face of all things. Thought you said I wasn’t pretty to look at?”

              “I never said that.”

      Shadow instantly knew he made a huge mistake when Sonic’s face blanked and his eyes widened. He wasn’t sure how the other would act if he left it at that, and in a last attempt to salvage it he quickly spoke, almost knocking over his cup, which he quickly righted with only a few droplets of punch on the counter between them. 

             “I just- implied it. Heavily .”

      Sonic seemed to glance at Shadow’s hand, that now held his solo cup in such a vice-like grip that it looked painful. Painful to the cup, that is. A shy smile graced the blue hedgehog’s lips for a moment as he blinked dumbly at the cup, before he took a deep breath in through his nose, looking at Shadow. 

      That’s one of the things he possibly hates most about this pesky hog, his expressions change so quick he hardly had time to enjoy the more softer or interesting ones. Now that smug look is back and it’s tenfold, and all Shadow wanted to do is wipe it off his face with any means necessary. He tried to supply images of punching, instead of any other kind of methods that could wipe that look off his face. 

                   “Well, you’re not so bad to look at yourself, hotshot.”

      Shadow gaped like a goldfish for a whole three seconds maybe before recovering, hardening his features stiffly once more and looking away again, giving a simple ‘hmph’ as an answer. Mostly because he didn’t trust his voice right now. What was wrong with him? Sure, he sucked at taking compliments, but this was a whole new level of sucking. 

      It felt like his whole entire upper body was on fire. Maybe Rouge was right about those buttons, he was beginning to feel stuffy in his clothes…. 

                     “ Ah, I see. Back to the ol’ grunting treatment. You’re pretty easy to render speechless, huh?”

      The snort Sonic gave was short, simple, and sweet. Which, if Shadow had to sum up the other’s personality, those words would suffice. But with a lot more ‘annoying brat’ related adjectives added onto it.

            “I wouldn’t have to grunt if you would just take a damned hint.

     This had the other cackling, and once again Shadow’s eyes were drawn to him. Why couldn’t he keep his eyes off of the other? If he could just ignore him for a few minutes, not look his way, not speak a word - he’d grow bored and leave.

      Why was he entertaining this? Especially with how artificial the other seemed to be acting? It was obvious when he first came over here, he had a problem with him. Now, it seemed to be the opposite. How incredibly fake.

                    “I think I’ve taken plenty of your hints, Shadow.”

      Furrowing his eye ridges again, Shadow tried to wrack his brain for anything he said that might imply he wanted Sonic here. Which, for the record, he didn’t. Why would he want such an impossibly stupid thing? Focusing on one person helped with his anxiety a bit, but the conversation would only turn sour eventually. Why is he even indulging any of this?

               “Then you’re absolutely obtuse, faker.

      This struck a chord with the blue hedgehog, and he stopped his snickering to take in an evening breath. He shot Shadow the dirtiest look he had ever seen from anyone, and for some reason the raw emotion in Sonic’s eyes caused Shadow’s knees to feel weak. 

      Which was impossible for him to think about, since his knees are by far the strongest there was in possibly the entire city. No one could compete with him, even when he had cooped himself up for months without proper training, and that was just a simple fact.

                    “WHAT. Did. You. JUST. Call. Me?” 

      The burning look in the blue hedgehog’s eyes had Shadow leaning in, unable to keep a smirk from appearing on his lips. It felt more like a genuine smile when it came to how he felt on the inside, but in this context, it was practically rubbing salt in an open sore for Sonic. That emotion Sonic was giving him felt magnetic, and it was settling a weirdly pleasant feeling in his gut.

                “What’s the matter? Are you obtuse and deaf? I said you’re a filthy fucking faker , hedgehog. You’re about as lame and fake as this party. I’m surprised you and whoever is hosting the party haven’t already started to talk off each other’s ears, and yet here you are, bugging me instead.” 

      The blue hedgehog seemed to be boiling in his seat as he swiveled it around, bumping his knees into Shadow’s with purposeful aggression. Sonic opened his mouth to say something, when his face fell and his eyes landed on something behind Shadow. Before the ebony hedgehog could even turn to look, a familiar voice reached his ears.

             “Oh, I see you boys are getting along, huh? I didn’t think when I said ‘go big or go home’ that you’d pick to go big , Shadow.”

      Taking a deep breath to steady himself from the interruption, he shot a glare at his sister, who was now leaning onto the bar table beside him. Her voice was just as suggestive as her expression, which irritated him greatly. Even if he was looking for that sort of thing, Sonic and him were barely even having a friendly conversation, let alone a flirtatious one.

                  “I was just telling him that there are much better things to do than to bother me, get your mind out of the gutter, bat.”

      Rouge waved her hand, shaking her head before pushing off the bar to saunter up next to Sonic, who seemed to have sobered up from Shadow’s words temporarily to greet her. 

            “Ignore Shadow, Big Blue. He gets touchy when he isn’t chained to his motorcycle.”

      Sonic’s eye ridges raised at that, seeming impressed. His tone was almost as taunting of a purr as Rouge’s was currently.

                     “Oh, is that who rode in on a motorcycle that everyone was talking about? Should’ve known he was the emo-looking hedgehog they were talking about.”

      Shadow whipped his head back to look at him, narrowing his eyes. Before he could do more than growl, Rouge stepped in to try and facilitate between the two. She had NO idea what they had been talking about that seemed to put the both of them in such a tense mood, but she was having none of it.

             “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about Shadow here, Blue. A man of mysteries, even to his family.”

      She put an elbow on Sonic’s shoulder, leaning in and whispering. Shadow narrowed his eyes before looking away. He could hear her and she knew he could, and it pissed him off.

             “I know he was probably an ass first, but could you die down on the offense? It's been a rough night.”

     Sighing, Shadow turned to get off the bar stool. Rouge shot up from her whispering position to blink innocently, smiling wide. 

                “Well, I think I’ve spent my obligatory hour here.”

      Gasping, she rushed in front of him and held her hands out.

            “No way! You are the one who drove us, don’t leave a girl hanging! Just because you met the host of the party and picked a petty little word battle with him doesn’t mean you’ve done your socializing quota, either!”

      Shadow was about to retort about how their agreement was only him spending an hour out, before he latched onto the later half of her words. He froze in place before looking back at Sonic, who faked a bored expression, and Rouge, who seemed to still hold a fiery scolding look in her eyes. 

                 “Sonic is the host of the party?”

      The bat’s wings fluttered for a moment, and she blinked in confusion before furrowing her eye ridges.

           “Well yeah, duh . I told you the list of all the people I went to highschool with, Shadow, and that Big Blue was the host.”

     Silence stretched on between the siblings for a moment, before realization dawned on her face.

            “ Oh my god, you weren’t even listening to me back then, were you?!”

     The ebony hedgehog crossed his arms and looked away. His face was stone on the outside, but she could read his ‘guilt posture’ from anywhere. She huffed, putting her hands on her hips.

      They were both snapped out of their sibling quarrel when they heard a snicker beside them. Shadow’s eyes landed on Sonic much faster than Rouge’s did, already ready to engage in more word wit. 

                    “Wow, he really needs to get better at sarcasm.”

      Shadow’s shoulders tensed at that, feeling embarrassment rising in his gut. He looked away from Sonic and began re-running the whole conversation they’ve had in their head up until this point. Is that what that grin was? But, Rouge doesn’t normally grin like that when she’s being sarcastic - However, Sonic was being sarcastic about being the owner of the party, that much was clear to him now.

     He has never felt more burning humiliation in his life, and Rouge could tell he was growing more and more tense, but had no idea what was up with him. Before she could say anything, the ebony hedgehog takes a deep breath and looks at Sonic with fire in his eyes.

               “It is you who needs to get better at being a proper host.”

     The bat couldn’t help but bite her lip, torn between wanting to break up their intense glare down and wanting to see how it plays out. She couldn’t play devil’s advocate in all of Shadow’s battles, and he was the one who started it. 

     She could be a good sister and break this off and let Shadow take them home, or she could be a good sister and let him learn from his own social mistakes. One look between the two had her choice set in stone, and she hummed.

            “Well, you two seem to be doing just fine , I’m going to go find Knuckles~! I’ll be back in 30 minutes, we can leave then. I am getting pretty tired .

      Before Shadow could whip his head around and grab her arm, she had already fled. Realizing how stupid he looked, holding his hand out and looking lostly into the crowd for her, he retracted his hand quickly and cursed under his breath.

      The damage was done though, and Sonic ate up every second of that momentary flicker of emotion. In fact, he filed it away for safekeeping, before leaning over towards the ebony hedgehog. Shadow immediately retracted away, looking appalled by the close proximity. 

                    “So, tell me more about how much you hate this party. Now that you’ve met the host, still thinking me and him could get along?”

     The shit eating grin on Sonic’s face grew, blue lids halved as they gaze dreamily at Shadow. Once again Shadow wanted nothing more than to punch it off of him, but at the same time he also wanted to lean in and do something completely different. Instead of rising to the bait, however, he just slipped off his bar stool and began retreating into the crowd.

     This was ridiculous, Rouge had promised him an hour tops. He fully intended to find her and demand they leave instantly. Once he dived out of the crowd once more, he looked around trying to spot her. Instead, he spotted a blue hedgehog who seemed to be looking for him. Their eye contact was two seconds too long, and he immediately retreated into the crowd again.

      Irritated that he hadn’t shaken the other away, he tries to dive out of sight again completely. A few minutes later, he emerged and looked around, not seeing Sonic anywhere.

      Feeling relieved, he noticed there was a door beside him, and he grabbed it and eagerly opened it. Once outside in the cold night air, he looked around, and was once again relieved to see he was alone finally. He unbuttoned his dress shirt and loosened some of his chest fur to help with the feeling of being overcrowded and overstuffed. After the night he’s been having, running his fingers through the tuff on his chest felt odd and foreign to him.

                “Damn hedgehog, and damn bat….”

      He shook his head, sitting down on the front porch step in a huff, running his hands through the quills on his head. Noticing with distaste that they were ruffled and out of place from being irritated, Shadow grumbled and hid his face in the arm now resting on his knee.  

     There was no way in hell he was ever going to a party again. The amount of miscommunication, annoying expression-filled hedgehogs in suspiciously attractive lighting, the way his heart raced whenever those emerald eyes filled with a hint of chaotic smugness.

     Shadow moved his head up so fast that he swore he got whiplash. What the hell was he thinking?! That obnoxious, immature, absolute brat of a hedgehog was nothing to be dwelling over. Especially not in this light - well he supposed he wouldn’t have to if the literal lighting in the house wasn’t so good. For such a shit party, Sonic sure picked the best lighting to suit his dumb blue-tan complexion.

      The ebony hedgehog ruffled his quills on purpose this time, trying to knock some sense into his head. What the fuck is wrong with you?! This is ridiculous, this isn’t how this night was supposed to-

      Suddenly, the door opened which caused Shadow to pause his half-breakdown. He startled back to the present to watch his sister narrowly dodge an angry red echidna’s hand trying to grab her arm. He blinked several times, before throwing death glares at the man, but Rouge instead of looking threatened, snickered playfully and waved at him.

                “Oh! This is my ride. Bye bye, lover boy. Don’t be a stranger now, Knuckies!”

      The echidna, who Shadow now knew as… Knuckies? He Grumbled and sent her a death glare that could rival Shadow’s. Could, if the ebony hedgehog wasn’t already so incredibly pissed right now. Luckily, his sister’s hand on his shoulder was enough to ground him back to the fact that he had the keys. Oh, he was the ride she was speaking of.

      The door slammed shut when the two dark siblings turned to head back to where his motorcycle was parked. Shadow went to unlock the vehicle when he noticed a note on the seat. Rouge gasped and flew over yelling, fawning over what it could be.

                “Oh, for me? Wonder who has fallen for my deceptive wiles this time.”

      Shadow just rolled his eyes and huffed, sitting down on the now empty seat, getting ready to start the engine. Just as he was about to, Rouge frowned and grumpily handed him the letter. She didn’t seem too upset to do so, though, and it seemed her pout was only for show. Hesitantly, Shadow furrowed his eye ridges, picking up the piece of paper and looking it over. 

                “I can’t believe I worried about you for nothing! You had more luck tonight than I did! This is totally not fair, I’m being cucked by my own asocial brother of all people!” 

      There, in possibly the shittiest handwriting ever, was the last thing Shadow thought he’d be reading after the night he had been having.

                     'Here’s my cell. Call me when you throw a better party, faker. -Sonic’ 

Chapter Text

            “GODDAMNIT!” 

      Shadow jumped up from the corner he was resting in, throwing the covers off of him in a feverish attempt to get these feelings to just go away. It’s been about a month and a half, and yet every night he’s been having those horrible nightmares again.

      Normally, if he just followed his routine and did everything he was supposed to do while awake, the nightmares wouldn’t come as often or as viciously. If he just worked on the bike, moved the items in the room a certain number of times before bed, and did some pushups he’d be able to proactively avoid the buildup of negative emotions just enough to not dream too horribly. Sure, they weren’t pleasant dreams, but they weren’t this. 

      Getting up, he nervously fidgeted in his mirror, trying to push his quills down. Once he felt his hands in them, petting them down, he closed his eyes and reveled in that feeling. It always felt calming, to have something running through his quills, soothing them down. He immediately halted what he was doing when he remembered why he felt that way, scowling.

            “I’m being a fucking child about all of this.”

      Rubbing his face in frustration, he began pacing around his room. He thought about going back to bed for the sixth time that night, but as he passed the large garage door that led to the outside, he realized it was morning. The birds were singing such a lovely tune, as if the world was something beautiful to embrace, yet here he was feeling nothing but contempt. All he wanted to do was lock his doors and curl up in that corner again, block it all out, try and remind himself this isn’t what she’d want for him.

             “GOD FUCKING DAMNIT!”

      Blocking the world out, because even if the nightmares hurt, at least he got to see them one last time. That very thought sent a surge of rage shooting through him, and his fists slammed down on his work bench several times until his fists shook with bruising pain. He realized too late that his whole entire body was trembling violently, and he had to slide down to the ground and take evening breaths.

             “Fuck this…. Just. Fuck this. This isn’t-” 

       His lungs felt like they were pinching up like raisins, and he squeezed his eyes shut and began his breathing exercises. This happened every time, the sick self deprecative feeling in his gut and the desire to break something. To break anything. Just to feel it smash to pieces in his hands. It felt wrong, it felt stupid. 

            “I’m sorry I broke things again, I know you’d scold me , I just-”

      Breaking things won’t cause the things he’s lost to come back, it won’t bring back the innocence of his childhood, or the warm hands of another. He could feel the tears welling up in his eyes, so he covered his eyes in his hands, trying to will them to go away. Shadow didn’t want this right now, he didn’t want this when his progress has been doing so well. 

      What had triggered it? Why was he feeling so conflicted? The only thing that happened of significance recently was going to that party a month and a half ago. Yet, it didn’t start directly after it, so he wasn’t sure what it was. Is it possible to have a delayed reaction to the stress the party gave him? He didn’t feel upset after he got home, in fact he felt…. Strangely happy about it, despite the exhaustion and breakdown he nearly had. If it wasn’t the party - what was it? Why was he reacting this way? He felt like screaming, howling the pent up energy away in hopes it would bring some sort of answer, yet knowing fully well it won’t.

      The knock he knew was coming came to his door, but his whole body jolted anyways, not daring to move more than that. He hoped she’d just go away, he hoped that his silence would give her the hint he’s not in the mood, yet he knew this wasn’t the case as he heard the jingling of something. It’s been a while since she felt it necessary to use her spare key to the garage in order to open his door, which meant he probably sounded like he was getting bad again.

      He hated that. That whatever he sounded like moments before sounded bad enough that she couldn’t respect his privacy because of it. They had discovered comfortable, healthy boundaries a few years ago when Rouge fully moved in with him. She learned to let him handle things by himself when he needed to, and when to barge in and knock his walls down and force him to ask for help when he was too stubborn to. Even now, Shadow could hear the soft scolding of the wisest woman he knew in his ears, telling him not to self sabotage like this in that therapist tone of her’s. 

            'Shadow darling, you shouldn’t wait until other people force themselves in. You need to learn to reach out when things are getting bad again, to discover new and meaningful relationships without shutting down. That’s the only way you can move on from this the way she would have wanted you to, the way they both would have wanted you to.’

      Shadow groaned, realizing his therapist was right. Before Rouge could find the right key amongst many to stick in his door’s lock, he rose up from his spot and hurriedly rushed to the door. He unlocked the knob, opening the door a crack before stepping away and going back to his spot on the floor. He collapsed back down into it roughly on trembling knees, before curling up again into himself. He really didn’t want to look at her right now, not when he was like this.

      For several seconds, he didn’t hear anything. Until a soft thud batted the door open fully. He didn’t have to move his hands from his face to know she had entered, the sound of the keys being thrown on the workbench closest to the door. The whole room’s walls were covered in work benches, except the back wall in which his mirror and bed sat against. 

      In the middle sat his prized possession, and the way the soft padded steps navigated he could tell she hadn’t turned on the lights, her eyes barely open in her grogginess. She expertly dodged the motorcycle in her stumbling to find him, as if she’s done it a thousand times over in that drunken sleepy state of her’s. Shadow had to push away the guilt of how often this happened and tried to forgive himself for it. 

     He knew he did the same thing on nights she had it rough, but the fact that he had it more often than her frustrated him. Sure, he didn’t ask her for help every time, but if he opened himself up more, would he? Would he ask for help every time the nightmares came back? Did he even want that? Could he even live with himself if he did, in fact, want that? Was he even living at this point, in the first place?

     Silently, the bat slid down to the floor next to him carefully, trying to dodge the massive indent of the work bench behind her as she did so. It was impressive, if not completely heartbreaking. Most people wouldn’t feel guilt for someone with such destructive power, but most people weren’t Rouge. So when he felt a hand on his head, guiding it to a soft caring shoulder, he couldn’t stop the dam from breaking just as the workbench did. 

      Shadow’s chest was seizing, and as the shock and adrenaline subsided, he realized exactly what he had done, what he had broken. He tried to hold it in, he could feel how tightly his throat clenched up as he hyperventilated, but she just shushed him and petted his quills down as best as she could. It felt selfish , letting himself get pulled back to a time when that petting was comforting. He felt selfish because he had broken something precious , something irreplaceable . They would’ve been so incredibly ashamed of him. 

      He refused to look at her, he always did. There was a lot of things Shadow hated in this world, he was a crude and blunt man at heart even without all the trauma. However, that cynicism on good, normal days, was a logical and calculating kind of realism. A morally grey individual with a neutral outlook and great advice. He still had a warm gentle heart despite all the pain that it had taken on in recent years, kind and smart in how to help others, but never himself. 

      No, that’s where he always trips up. He could help people through emotions that he has felt himself, in his own detached way, but helping himself through them was a whole other story. It’s why he couldn’t connect with others, the moment he did, the empathy was too much. She never pushed him to feel anything he wasn’t ready to feel, and he never forced her to talk about things she wasn’t ready to speak about. A speechless bond between siblings that both have seen way too many things, most of which darkened their worlds considerably. 

      As he broke down against her shoulder, she adjusted her position better to hold him, just like he always needed when he got like this. He eagerly took it, clutching onto the back of her night shirt. They didn’t need words, this was enough. Rouge knew this as she closed her eyes and breathed out a soft sigh. This was enough , she had to reassure herself over and over again. It was enough for him, even though it didn’t feel like she was doing anything. He had to do all the work himself, even if she was here to support him. It was his burden to work through on his own, despite him constantly trying his hardest to fix the problems of others, no one could help him fix this but himself.

      The more he tried to keep himself from being loud in his grief, the more the tremors wracked his body. Rouge hated this, every time. Not being able to do anything but sit here and just pet his head until he got it all out. It sounded like he was dying, the way his breath hitched in that scratchy weak tone, the way he clutched her for dear life as if he’d stop fighting to live if he didn’t. 

      In a lot of ways, they weren’t the only ones that died. Shadow had to suffer the worst death of all, and while he’s working to rebirth himself and invent a new sense of normal, it didn’t take away the fact he lost all the innocence and happiness he once had. Rouge remembered the first time she walked through that door to an entire family. A family she never thought was waiting for her, behind that door, that one traumatic night of her life.

      A warm, welcoming feeling of being accepted in the arms of strangers, all thanks to Shadow. She never had that before, and he brought her that. He brought her to a home with real family. With real kindness , even if it had its own shakiness to it. All families did, right? She rarely even thought of the crummy old family she once had, all thanks to what he did for her that night when she was 14. Shadow was the only family she needed now, and she’d continue holding onto him tightly for as long as he needed, for as long as he absolutely fucking needed .

                “It’s okay, big softie. Just let it all out, okay? No need to be strong all the damn time, just scream as loud as you want for once. Nothing’s stopping you anymore, just get it all out now.”

       Shadow’s voice hitched at that in a whine, and she felt like the tight hold of his arms could crush her as his face nuzzled into her shoulder. She’d tease him later about getting snot on her fur, but right now she didn’t care. She just closed her eyes tight as he now sobbed like his life depended on this, the sound being one she felt could break souls if it wanted to. He always needed permission to be loud about his emotions, always feeling guilty, never feeling valid in what he was feeling despite being the most valid person in the world. No one could ever be more valid than the two of them in this, she wished he’d realize that finally.

      It made sense, since in the past he would be scolded for throwing temper tantrums. If he wanted to talk about his feelings, he had to talk about them in a constructive manner after dropping and giving fifty pushups. Shadow didn’t have time to be an emotional kid, and when he was, it had to be done either healthily or with some form of consequence. Nothing he did could be explosive, nothing was allowed to be messy or irregular. Growing up in a military family did things to you, even if it wasn’t necessarily always abusive. Shadow’s family was anything but cruel, but it made sense all the same that he’d be the way he was. Especially with the constant stress of responsibility hanging over everyone’s shoulders due to family illness. 

      Sometimes grieving isn’t silent, sometimes grief isn’t concrete or clear, sometimes it has no linear path or full stop. It’s loud, it’s gross, it’s waking up in a pool of your own snot or vomit or tears or all three. It’s not knowing where you are and not wanting to know where you were, it’s not understanding why you were put here in the first place or how to make the pain go away. Nothing about it was comprehensive and it was never going to make sense, but it was a healing process. Ever so aggravatingly slow in progress, full of several steps being taken back just when you thought you reached an answer. Once you think it’s all gone, things begin bubbling to the surface you never knew was hidden in there. Shadow tried his best to live his life as though they were still here, telling him what he should and shouldn’t do. However, that sense of denial wouldn’t allow him to move on, and these two siblings painfully knew so. 

      They both knew it, but to be able to break his routine and get him to live a new life, it was hard. Even with exposure therapy, he still had moments like this where he’d revert back a few steps, where he needed to take a breath and relearn all the coping mechanisms he’s been taught so far. Letting things go was always hard, and Rouge wished she understood that better. Leaving her old home wasn’t difficult for her at all, nor is it hard for her to jump from relationship to relationship as fast as she could blink.

       She stole everything she could get her hands on, took in all the information she could, and booked it. It felt liberating, it felt freeing, it felt like repurposing the pain she felt into something positive. Her occupation literally made being invisible and on the move a regular thing, which only encouraged her life style further. She had built a life of tangibility, incredible flexibility, all because she wanted the availability to run and hide as soon as she possibly could.

       Rouge wished she could do more for him, but once again, she was reminded that they had both already said everything that needs to be said about this topic. He can still love them without obsessively holding on like this, but logic didn’t work when you were grieving so violently. Talking things out in a constructive manner doesn’t work any longer, when the person you were died along with them. All he can do is try and become the new person he has been struggling to become for over a year now, with this therapist’s help. 

       Nothing Rouge did could be or would be good enough to help him with a complicated trauma such at this one, even with her knowledge of the incident. Rouge knew he was making progress, every time he got loud about his feelings, but it still hurts every time seeing it. It hurts seeing him let it all out, it hurts to see her family mourn the people she had come to associate with hospitality and warmth. In a way, they were her family, too, but her heart couldn’t hold on the same ways he did. She couldn’t mourn life the way he seemingly could, and perhaps it’s because he’s so damn stubborn. Always trying so hard to do the very thing he’s been told a thousand times not to do, despite knowing the consequences. 

                 “....Are you doing a bit better, softie?”

      The sobbing had stopped for a while now, his breathing slowly going back to normal, or as normal as it can with his nose clogged up with snot and muzzle likely feeling like it had been slammed into a wall. The headaches that came with these things always sucked, but she knew emotionally it always felt better once it all left the body.

      Instead of a solid answer, Shadow just nodded his head, humming. That was a good enough answer for her, because it meant he was coherent enough to do those things. It would’ve been worse if he had another episode where he couldn’t react. That would just mean they would sit here longer, and she’d have to help him remember who he was and where they were. To point out things to ground him, all the while petting his quills and hearing him call her the wrong name. 

      No, she really didn’t want to hear him say her name right now. Not when he has been doing so well, not when he finally learned how to prevent those episodes.

                “How about this, we could go and find that book you were telling me about yesterday. The library opens in a few minutes, and I feel pretty awake right now. After you get cleaned up and take your meds, sound good?”

       Shadow let out a huff of air, seemingly deflating all the tension left in his shoulders at that. This hedgehog was such a drama queen. She laughed and rolled her eyes at the exaggerated expression he threw her when he lifted his head. Seeing him pout like a kid always sent her into cackle fits, since it was only ever reserved for Rouge’s eyes only after these rare moments of vulnerability. 

            “Give me money for a coffee and I’ll think about it.”

      The smile didn’t die off her face, even after she was done snickering. Rouge didn’t think he’d actually want to go out somewhere after the morning he had, no normally he would crawl back into bed and sleep off the sobbing fit he’d just had. Then he’d be up in a few hours and things would be back to normal - as normal has they could normally be - which was him working on that bike of his and pretending nothing ever happened, all the while looking more depressed and deprived of sleep.

      Every day, Shadow surprises her with new bits and pieces of his progress. Even though Shadow never felt like he was making any new breakthroughs in his grief, his recovery being a rocky one as recoveries always tended to be, he always seemed to be growing one way or another lately.

      As he stood shakily he took a deep breath, offering her a hand up. Rouge graciously took it, allowing herself to be pulled up to a stand. It was always so admirable how even after freshly sobbing and causing his body weakness, he could still carry plenty of weight in those strong arms of his. Not that Rouge would ever admit out loud how big and heavy of a figure she had, not unless it had to do with her desirable curves. 

                “I’m guessing you’re not going to replace that, huh?”

       Shadow was mid-digging through another work bench for clothes when he lifted his head at her inquisition, looking over at the one he had broken across the room. Rouge was slowly running her hands over the bumpy edged dents in it, and the somber look in her eyes squeezed at his chest painfully, the guilt already building once more.

            “I’m…. Sorry if I scared you.” 

      This startled the bat back to the present, her eyes landing on him. They shared silent eye contact like this for a little while longer, the two of them fully aware that only they could see in the dark so well like this. They were people who dwelled in the darkness, naturally, after all. Trained to stay in the shadows , no pun intended. Finally, she took a deep breath and smiled.

                 “I’d never feel scared of you, Shadow. Never.

     The meaning of those words hung in the air between them like a hidden message, that no one else would truly hear the context to if they weren’t them. Finally, the hedgehog reached to turn on the light, wincing at the sudden brightness of the room. Rouge had already closed her eyes the moment she saw him reach for it, otherwise she’d be blinded worse than he was right now.

     After a few minutes, she slowly eased her eyes open to adjust more. Once her eyes stopped being blurry and had taken in the new change of light, she began to saunter towards the door, opening it. Despite her self pride, being a bat had as many cons as it did pros. She took one glance at her spare house keys sitting on the workbench, before looking at Shadow. 

      He was mid changing his shirt, but when he caught her staring, he lifted an eye ridge. 

                  “Next time you need me, just come get me, okay softie?”

      The ebony hedgehog watched her close the door gently behind her, leaving her keys on the work bench by the door. This was a new development in their sibling relationship, but it wasn’t an unwelcome one. Shadow just hoped he was worthy of her trust to reach out for help. 

      The hedgehog shook his head to try and shake those thoughts out, but instead just made himself dizzy. He hovered his hand over the keys, planning on organizing them into a drawer, but realized that he didn’t want to. He liked where she set them, lazily and sloppily sitting on the bench, full of life in a way somehow in itself. Where she could easily grab them if she ever felt it was necessary, because that’s what trust was all about.

      He didn’t have to move them, not like everything else. No, she was capable of moving them herself if she wanted to. She was here, able to move objects on her own any way she saw fit. He wished he could say the same about the rest of the garage’s items. 

      Once he threw the sweater over his head and pulled on a pair of crisp black jeans, he sat down to tie up his combat boots. He glanced at his motorcycle, before glancing at the door, and then his motorcycle again. Rouge wouldn’t dare to ask him to ride it with the morning he’s been having, but something was rattling inside of him that morning.

                      'Oh, is that who rode in on a motorcycle that everyone was talking about? Should’ve known he was the emo-looking hedgehog they were talking about.’

      Shadow felt his face flush in an array of warmth, and he tried to somehow wipe it off his cheeks even though he knew it wouldn’t work. Turtling in his sweater wasn’t helping with the heat either. What was wrong with him? He’s been on and off thinking of that dumb blue hedgehog ever since the party. 

      It didn’t help that even though he told Rouge he threw away the slip of paper, she called him out on his bluff. 

                ‘What’s that in the 3rd drawer of your filing cabinet workbench, then? The one you hold important papers in?’

            ‘You were snooping in my drawers again?! I thought you said you wouldn’t-’

                 ‘No, I don’t need to, you just told me all I needed to know.’

      Shadow was still not proud of the fact she tricked him into saying what she wanted to know. Rouge was an expert at it, learning at a young age to get the things she needed from others without asking for it. She was right, she didn’t have to snoop if she could psych him out so easily, playing her dumb mind games as she tended to do. Now looking in the mirror, he smoothed down his quills, and made the executive decision he’s been debating in his head for a good 10 minutes now.

      The bat expected him to get ready faster and bug her a long while ago, but she didn’t mind him taking his time, eyeliner takes time and patience after all. However, what she didn’t expect was to see Shadow standing in the bathroom doorway, holding up his motorcycle keys with a questioning eye ridge raised. Rouge’s eyes grew the size of saucers as she quickly shook her head to agree.

                  “ Hell yes , hell fucking yes! You know I’m always down to get crazy.”

       Shadow snorted, shaking his head.

              “Says the one who took my keys away from me for a month after that last traffic ticket.”

      Rouge huffed, pouting her cheeks out and crossing her arms. Her eyeliner looked mostly done, but she hadn’t put her lip gloss on yet. The ebony hedgehog stepped into the bathroom to look through the different arrays of colored products on the counter, picking out a deeper shade of red.

                    “You know, I can’t help if I work for the government, hun. Wish family was an exception, but considering they wouldn’t let you off the hook knowing your dad, my word wasn’t gonna cut it.”

      The bat didn’t even complain further as Shadow took the cap off the lipstick, holding her chin still as he applied the lipstick for her. She tried her best not to smile through the process, but with the scolding look Shadow was giving her, it said she was doing a piss poor job of it. 

               “Yeah, well, the government can suck my ass .”

      The bat was grateful for his quick hand, because she couldn’t stop herself from snorting and breaking out into fully belly laughs at that. If anyone else was doing her makeup for her, there was no way they would’ve been able to avoid smearing red all over her face. Shadow, however, had plenty of practice from past incidents.

                     “Do you think the government eats ass good? Been meaning to try that for a while now, think I might have to file a request with my workplace.”

      Shadow rolled his eyes, looking disgusted and exasperated by her train of thought, but she couldn’t help but smirk wider. 

                 “If we’re talking about the specific branch you work for? Absolutely not. It can’t even fuck you over good enough to be satisfying, let alone perform such a delicate sex act.”

      Literally wheezing now, Rouge leaned over the bathroom counter and pounded her fist weakly into the stone. She was trying so hard not to smear her eyeliner, but she was near tears with laughter. When she looked up to see a smug smirk and a huff or two from Shadow’s nose, her madwoman cackling died down long enough to appreciate him.

      Really, truly appreciate him. Even with bags under his eyes, the wrinkle of his cheek when he smirks is adorable. His resilience for feeling like shit and then bouncing back from it time and time again was so admirable, and she wouldn’t want anyone else being her family. She felt pride in having him as her brother. 

                     “Job fucking me over aside, let’s do something about those bags of your’s!”

      Shadow’s half-smile dropped at that, looking boredly at her. She snickered as she pulled out her foundation and eyeshadow, looking him over. 

                     “What! Don’t give me that look. You need eyeshadow for those eyeshadows, Shadow.” 

     The ebony hedgehog sighed and slumped his body against the counter at her absolutely absurd puns. He knew better than to fight her on this, and he didn’t mind the way it complimented his complexion everytime she worked on his face, anyways. Might as well give into the devil rather than fight against her, knowing he’d only be fighting a losing battle, one of many in the war of sibling rivalry.

     They spent about 20 more minutes there, in the bathroom, laughing randomly about dumbly or darkly orchestrated jokes while applying each other’s make up. Rouge definitely didn’t go all out like she could and like Shadow had on her, but that’s mostly because the gentle and natural look always fit Shadow best. 

     His eyelids were already so dark, that all she ever did to them was apply a gentle shimmer to them, letting the natural light reflect on the slickness of them. His eyelashes were such a pretty boy length, so she just curled them at an angle to look sharper against his cheek bones. The skin of his face itself was already so soft and blemishless that covering up wasn’t necessary. 

     The coat of foundation and skin-tone eyeshadow on the bags under his eyes wasn’t even all that thick, mostly because the dark under his eyes was by no means unattractive. She just didn’t want people being able to tell he’s been crying, but a little shadow there didn’t do him injustice.

     In fact, shadows never did Shadow any injustice, it was pretty much his whole entire aesthetic here. The pun caused her to snicker as they left the bathroom, and Shadow threw her a look as they walked towards the garage. She grabbed her bag off the kitchen counter as she walked by it, scanning the house for any sign of Omega. 

     She tried not to show how disappointed she was that it seemed he hadn’t come home again for the fifth night in a row, following her brother into the garage. Handing her a helmet, the bat pouted her lip out at him as she looked over the helmet, watching Shadow clip his on.

                “You know, you should buy helmets with cuter decorations. Get a girl something with some class, maybe something to match the majority of my shoes or something!”

     Shadow threw her another look, before she climbed on behind him.

            “They’re for safety purposes, Rouge. Not glamour. Plus, I already got you a new one with a visor on it so you’d stop complaining about the air in your eyes.”

     Huffing, she rested her hands on his lower torso, finding the soft fabric of his sweater comforting.

                “I don’t understand how you expect me to not go for both practical and glamour. Ever heard of a woman before, Shadow? We’re pretty much the definition of gorgeously effective. We also have an affinity for blood and guts, as well as creation of life. Don’t ever forget, we brought you into this world, we’ll take your ass right out of it. ” 

     The ebony hedgehog shook his head and sighed at her playful sassing, starting up the engine of his motorcycle. He tried not to correct her on the fact he was, in fact, not brought into this world by normal means. It was a subject better left unsaid when it was obvious Rouge was just joking, anyways. Starting up the bike, they peeled out of the garage with less speed than normal, but Rouge wasn’t complaining in the slightest. She just rested her head in his back quills like usual, closing her eyes.

     Shadow spends a good 30 minutes just sightseeing for a bit, which the bat doesn’t even question, she just accepts the quiet rustling and bustling of the morning around them as he speeds on by several barely awake city people. 

     She’s never awake around this time unless it’s for work, so she never noticed before how calming the gentle rise of the sun was, the soft sounds of the city slowly waking up for work. Rouge couldn’t imagine Shadow waking early like this every day, like he had since he was a child. 

     If she closed her eyes hard enough, she could imagine his father walking into his bedroom, telling him he overslept his 0500 alarm by ten minutes and to drop and give him twenty. Shadow always did twenty five, though. It was bittersweet, the memory. 

     Now, he never overslept the alarm, because there was no alarm. He didn’t need an alarm clock when he always woke up before 0500, anyways. She wondered if there will ever be a morning he will wake up, several hours having passed since five, and just accept that he had overslept. 

           “Do you want something to drink?”

       Rouge was snapped out of her thoughts, lifting her head and realized they were slowing to a halt. They were at a coffee shop, and it seemed like Shadow completely forgot about forcing her to pay for his drink. She snickered, shaking her head. 

             “I’ll just buy a bottle of water from the college vending machines.”

      Shadow nodded his head once, putting down the brake of his motorcycle to waltz his way inside. She sat guard on it, waiting for her brother to come back, when she got a particularly heinous idea. 

     She whipped out her phone at the speed of light, trying to text fast enough. Rouge knew the morning rush hour traffic on a Thursday wasn’t that intense, so she had to be quick. By the time Shadow had come back with his half-finished drink, he was lifting an eye ridge at her hunched over figure.

           “Something happen at work?”

       The bat jumped at the inquisition, quickly tucking her phone back into her purse. She shook her head, smiling at him and batting those long eyelashes of her’s innocently. This only made Shadow more suspicious of her behavior, but he didn’t push it further, mounting his motorcycle again.

      They drove off in a relatively peaceful silence after the hedgehog finished his warm beverage, and as they got closer to the college, Shadow revved up his engine and drove faster. The bat couldn’t help but smirk as she held onto him as tightly as possible, knowing what was coming. 

      Rouge watched as the gauge climbed dangerously in speed as they approached a bump in the road. She closed her eyes and felt their wheels leave the ground and go skyward the moment they hit a speed bump, using it as a ramp to propel forward. When her heart stopped pounding so breathlessly in her chest, her eyes opened and wings outstretched, a howling cackle erupting from her at how high off the ground they were.

      The moment the wheels touched down onto the pavement once again, they were several miles ahead, in front of the library. Everyone’s eyes in the nearby vicinity were huge and glued to them, as Shadow whipped his bike to the right just in time to avoid crashing into the decorative lawn of the facility. His boot came out and slammed against the curb, smoke from the tires clearing the air to reveal them both. 

      Rouge shook with delight, breaking out into a fit of giggles and hugging him close. The ebony hedgehog let the engine die, figuring this was the best curb to park against anyways, and gestured for her to move off of him. She flapped her bat wings and flew away from him, settling on the sidewalk.

      Shadow knew she was in a good mood now, from how bouncy and light on her feet she seemed to be. Earlier, there was some sort of somber feeling about her, and he couldn’t quite place how he knew it. He just knew that despite her saying she wasn’t scared of him, that memories were circulating around in her head, so it was better this way.

      Her smiling face was much better than the distant aura she emitted whenever she was trapped in memories. Of course, Shadow couldn’t judge considering how often he did the same exact thing, but he knew she grounded him when he needed it. The least he could do is return the favor. 

                           “Well well well, look what the cat dragged in, Knux!” 

      The ebony’s half smile died off his lips before it could even appear, pausing his walk towards Rouge to turn around and stare at the owner of such a familiar and unforgettable voice.

      There stood him , the absolute bane of his existence for the last month and a half. Accompanied by that dumb red echidna that Rouge always seemed to be teasing and hanging off of flirtingly. He was being regarded with a venomous stare from said echidna, and it made his blood pressure rise with the possibility of a fight.

      Before he could even think to move in any threatening way, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he was brought back to the present. No, it was fine. Fighting this loser wasn’t worth it, and plus, Rouge seemed to find amusement in the dumb echidna’s sour mood if her hand on him was indication.

                  “Well well, if it isn’t Big Blue and my lil Knuckie. I’m glad to see you both came running to my rescue this morning, as always.”

      Shadow lifted an eye ridge at that, pausing his intense glaring at Sonic to look at her. What did she mean by that? He had a feeling she did something to mess with them, and he wasn’t sure if he should be disappointed or amused by it. 

                     “Seems like you didn’t need saving, your knight in shining armor is with you.”

      The implications the red echidna threw at them had Shadow tense, narrowing his eyes at him all over again. Ever since the two of them showed up, the dumb brute had been glaring holes into him, and Shadow honestly didn’t know what his fucking problem was. This time, Sonic was the one to sense the tension and broke it with a chuckle.

                          “Hahah, hey, well. It’s good you’re not actually in trouble! Knux and me had some studying to do this morning, anyways.” 

       The blue hedgehog put both hands behind his head, shooting his friend a playful look. Shadow tried to file that name into his head for later. His name was Knux? It didn’t sound right, though. A nickname perhaps? He was trying hard to figure out what the fuck his name was again, so he knew the name of the echidna he was likely going to punch the lights out of. 

       As Sonic passed him and Rouge, he gave Shadow a playful wink, smirking with self assurance. Shadow stiffened at that, turning his full attention to the hedgehog walking by, his head turning with him. Sonic didn’t even pay attention to it, continuing towards the library, which had the ebony hedgehog bristling. Rouge, instead of dragging him like she normally did, went up next to ‘Knux’ and grabbed his wrist.

                “Come on! The morning air’s cold big boy, don’t stand around all day and be a goofus, Knuckie!”

      Shadow furrowed his eye ridges as they both passed him, slowly following behind the two pseudo-lovebirds. Was ‘Knuckie’ a nickname, too? Why did people have to make such stupid nicknames, it only made learning names much harder for him. This was downright humiliating of a situation, but then again, he didn’t have to remember the echidna’s name.

      Maybe he didn’t need to know the name of his enemy to clobber them. The way ‘Knuckie’ looked back at him with malice, even while Rouge was dragging him into the building, only further proved this. 

      Once they got inside, they noticed Sonic perched at a nice corner spot. The sight reassured Shadow that they’d be away from anyone else in the library, which he was grateful for. He broke away from them to go look through their selection of books. He began to realize he was also grateful for how barren the library was on a Thursday morning, during semester transition periods.

      It was good Rouge was able to access any area of knowledge at free will with her government ID, not that Shadow needed it to get places anyways. Everywhere publically funded he went, people knew his face from his family’s name. The thought had him cringing, trying to skim the books instead of focusing on wandering thoughts. 

      By the time he found the book he was looking for and made his way back to the table, he noticed everyone was distracted and talking normally. The lack of tension made things a whole lot less difficult to approach the group, and when he got there, he noticed his normal seat next to Rouge was taken by a certain blue hedgehog.

      He stood in front of the seat awkwardly, not wanting to make a scene by asking him to move but not wanting to sit next to the red echidna. Seemingly sensing his dilemma, Sonic smirked up at him.

                       “Whoops, sorry. My bad, Shads!”

      Shadow narrowed his eyes at the hedgehog as he stood to move out of the seat, growling in a low voice.

             “ Don’t call me that .

      Sonic hummed and sat down next to Knuckie, Knux, Knuckleheaded loser of a brute, whatever his name was. The echidna seemed to be pissed once more, and the tension was in the air all over again. Shadow tried not to pay it any mind, it was the echidna's problem, not his. He casually opened his book to the page he read in an online review, preparing to tune out the group in whatever unimportant topic they were to discuss.

       The information was there, and he tried to commit it to memory. He didn’t have a photographic memory, as much as Rouge tried to say he did, but he was pretty good at digesting information if given the right time to do so. Also long as it was written on a page and he could manage to read the text without interruption, it pretty much got stuck in his mind for good.

                 “Hey hun, this the new medical book you were talking about?”

     Shadow knew the three of them had quietly begun their conversations once again, so the fact she was leaning her shoulder on his and looking over it to see what he was reading was appreciated. Rouge was trying to include him somehow, even if none of them were likely interested in the book in his lap. That’s what he always cherished about her - despite not being interested in the stuff he was, she still pretended to care.

      Shadow regarded her with a soft look, nodding, before looking back down at his book. He wasn’t sure what he did to trigger it, but the echidna spoke up directly at him literally seconds later, causing the hedgehog’s head to snap up in regards to it.

                     “So, you two are pretty close, huh?”

      The bat let out an exaggerated breath, shooting ‘Knuckie’ a look. Shadow wasn’t sure what the echidna was trying to imply with his tone, but it seemed unnecessarily aggressive. Before Rouge could speak up for herself against her friend, Shadow spoke, looking back down at his book in feigned disinterest.

      Rouge knew better, she could tell Shadow was beginning to get just as pissed as Knuckles. She could easily fight her own battles, and she knew this, but she kind of wanted to see where this would go.

            “Of course we are. I don’t see how that’s any of your business , though.”

       Sonic let out a breath himself, but his was much more amused at what was transpiring. Usually Rouge would try and break up the verbal fight that was bound to ensue, mostly for Shadow’s sake, but she felt like Knuckles deserved what was coming to him. Shadow was a lot more blunt in his deliveries than Rouge was, and for once she wanted to revel in seeing the look on her almost-boyfriend’s face when he realized his huge misunderstanding. It was his fault for trying to police her in the first place, if he had an issue with who she talked to, he could bring it up to her when they were alone.

                    “Funny, since I never heard of ya until three weeks ago. Where were you at all the other parties, huh? The ones where she needed someone?”

      That particular statement irked him. He was aware Rouge partook in underage drinking all throughout highschool, but that wasn’t any of his business. He knew not to try and judge her for her decisions, but he had let her know his worry for her several times. Even if Shadow was grateful for the echidna looking out for his sister, he didn’t like the fact he was implying he didn’t look out for her himself. How dead wrong he was. 

             “I was likely at our house studying or eating dinner, waiting for her to come home.”

       It was a fact, and a statement. Nothing more, nothing less. However, it seemed to set fires in the brute’s eyes. 

                    “YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN LIVING TOGETHER?!”

      The blue hedgehog beside the angry echidna was clearly trying not to laugh, holding both hands over his mouth and tearing up with every snicker that wracked his body. He even pounded his foot on the ground to try and stop the laughter bubbling in his ribs. The librarian scolded them from all the way across the library, which caused Shadow to curse internally. 

       He didn’t like disappointing the kind old woman who worked here, she knew his father and he really didn’t want to make her think he turned into some horrible, rowdy college kid. He shared a look with Rouge, who seemed to know exactly what he was thinking, as well as know something he didn’t. 

       There was a mischievous look in those turquoise eyes of her’s, and he wished she would drop the mind games for one second to indulge in his confusion here or defuse the idiocy her friends were partaking in. His eyes began skimming his book again, but the words were hard to focus on while he tried to once again feign a nonchalant position in the conversation.

            “Of course we live together, dumbass. If she ever felt unsafe anywhere, she knew to call me. It doesn’t matter where or what I was doing, I’d come to retrieve her.”

      He could feel the fond and amused smile Rouge was regarding him with without even looking. Shadow hardly ever voiced such gentle words, let alone in front of others. It felt nice that he had her back. However, the echidna before them seemed to disagree completely with the sentimental standpoint of it, wildly misinterpreting his words.

                   “ Retrieve her? She’s not a fucking object! And are you really okay with what she does at these parties? Knowing that she…. She is doing those things, flirting with other men?”

      Rouge began bristling besides the ebony hedgehog, which unlocked several doors to Shadow’s personality in split seconds. A protective look came across his face as he snarled, gripping the edges of his book with malice. The hypocrisy of the echidna’s contradicting statements were absolutely mind numbingly bullheaded. How could he claim she wasn’t an object while treating her like his opinion on what she did with her body mattered? If he had an issue with it, he should talk to her about it or break up with her. Why was he even indulging this rude imbecile? 

      Sonic seemingly could see what territory this was going in and decided he wanted to try and stop his friend before he said something he’d regret in his ignorance. The joke of Knuckles not knowing what was up had gone a bit too far, and he admitted to himself that he probably should’ve briefed him beforehand. Placing a hand on Knuckles’ shoulder he intended to right his wrong before it was too late, but before the blue hedgehog could open his mouth, Shadow beat him to the punch.

            “I never claimed my sister was an object. Which is why I am not bothered by what kind of men she sees, nor did I ever think I would have to be. I can see now that perhaps I should be, considering what an asshole you’re being to her currently. You’re not even worth her damn time.

       Silence completely overcame the four of them, and having no semblance of social cues, Shadow took this as an excuse to begin reading his book again. No point in caring what the other’s response was, because if he wasn’t worth Rouge’s time, he wasn’t worth his time either. Sonic laughed nervously as if to try and break the silence, and Rouge joined with, but neither of the other two parties spoke for a good minute and a half before Knuckles recovered finally. His recovery was annoyingly obtuse, though.

                    “They’re…. Siblings.”

      Sonic snorted, nodding quickly while patting his back jokingly.

                    “A bat and hedgehog, as siblings. And I implied that they were- that they had- that their relationship was-

       Rouge stopped him in his thoughts, trying to reach a supportive hand over to pat his arm. Shadow didn’t look up at it, because he preferred not to. It would’ve just ticked him off more. It didn’t dawn on him what the echidna had been implying the whole time until he spoke just now, and now he felt unbelievably nauseous. 

        Honestly, Shadow didn’t see what she saw in him, at all. Perhaps the jealousy wouldn’t be so extreme if she didn’t play around with relationship boundaries so loosely, but he knew why she had issues with it. Rouge wasn’t the best at communication and he wasn’t going to deny this was a mutual misunderstanding between two stubborn parties, but it was hard to take the side of someone who jumped to conclusions and aggression before trying to actually dig for information. Although, the fact he hardly knew Knuckles also played an integral role in everything, he had to admit.

        Communication was a two way street, and she wasn’t the only one avoiding it. A relationship feels constricting and concrete, and while she hasn’t been flirting with anyone else in at least a few months, she couldn’t just settle like that. From how tense their relationship was currently, he could see why she wouldn’t want to settle with someone like him , anyways.

        Not with her understandable past, especially. 

                    “So you’re…. Really brother and sister? With different last names? I mean I guess Sonic and Tails are brothers but- I thought you said you didn’t have parents, and he’s not old enough to ...”

      The ebony hedgehog let out a tired breath, clutching his book again. Couldn’t the echidna just assume his parents adopted her? Don’t normal people have parents, unlike them? The bat beside him fidgeted, and he knew why. Rouge never felt like she belonged anywhere. She never felt like she had a home, or a real family, or anything. Rouge never had anything , not before Shadow, not before he gave her a place to belong. She belonged with him, there was nothing wrong with that. Legality or blood be damned. 

      She especially hated talking about her family before him, and he was trying so hard not to tear the book in his hands in half. He gritted his teeth and threw a glare at the other hedgehog present, begging for him to excuse his friend or do something to save his neck. Sonic stayed oddly silent the whole time, tapping his pencil on his notebook as he observed everyone else interacting, which only made the ebony hedgehog more pissed. He was just watching his friend dig his own fucking grave. 

     When Sonic noticed him glaring, his emerald eyes scanned him like he was seeing him for the first time. Really, truly taking him in. Just as he had done at that shitty party of his. He wondered how the blue hedgehog would feel seeing the real side of him, the one involving fists and teeth and sharp fanged words. That thought instantly faded when he could hear his sister take a deep, evening breath. That snapped him back to what he was doing and where he was, and he remembered the kind old lady who ran this library, who he didn’t want to disappoint.

     Rouge was about to open her mouth to give a slick retort in order to cover up how uncomfortable she was, but Shadow beat her to the punch, like he had been doing with everyone today. Something was awake inside of him this morning, and he wasn’t sure if it was a good thing. 

     The feeling he felt in his gut told him no, it wasn’t. This wasn’t stability, this was nerves, this was rage, this was him feeling emotions again for the first time in a while. This was depression getting torn open so he could feel something else for once. Something he hadn’t felt in a long time, and he couldn’t quite place it. Sonic’s eyes on him was having an effect he couldn’t even control, like a competitive spirit he hasn’t indulged in for many years being awoken.

      His head snapped up from his book completely and he leaned forward on both his elbows, crossing his arms over the table and sneering at the red echidna. His body was boiling with the itch for a good fight, but he held back. He held back because he was better than this irritating echidna, which was why he didn’t even need to remember his dumb fucking name. 

      Names were unimportant. Names would just mean attachment, and he didn’t want to be attached to any of this. He just wanted to tear a hole into something, whether it was literally or figuratively. 

             “Legality is bullshit .” 

       He then lifted up a hand to gesture at Knuckles, and his whole entire demeanor screamed self-assured and condescending. His sneer turning into a shrug of feigned indifference.

             “If you’re the type to attend parties in which you smoked weed and partook in underaged drinking, I believe you have no say in what someone can and can’t legally do. It’s not my problem a certain idiot can’t keep important tabs on the person he’s trying to court .”

      The gesture led into a pointing motion and despite Knuckles literally shaking with rage at being called out in public of all places for doing illegal activities, much less the college he was currently attending, Shadow drove his point home.

              “In case you’re too stupid to realize, I’m talking about you specifically. I do not know what your little blue friend over here does, and I don’t care to know either. At least he’s smart enough to keep his mouth shut about familial topics, though, so he’s already a tier above you in that regard.”

      In a full smooth gesture, he slid his elbows off the table and sat back in his chair, his attention fully turned to the book in front of him. Rouge couldn’t suppress the air she’d been holding escaping her chest as she watched Sonic attempt to hold Knuckles back from causing a commotion in the library. His hand over the red echidna’s mouth and all. It was funny, and she was smiling, but it was all strained now. He knew it was, and it still grinded his nerves.

      Shadow would’ve found the effort impressive, considering Sonic was much shorter than Knuckles and had less upper body strength, but finding others impressive was not something he prided himself in. Maybe if this morning had gone differently, he would have complimented the hedgehog, but the feeling pooling in his chest stated other plans. So instead, he turned the page of his book and pretended the thought hadn’t even reached his mind. 

                “Sorry boys, the subject of family is very important to ol’ grump over here. Let’s just keep those topics under wraps, now, shall we?”

      Rouge’s voice was a purr, as she leaned into her brother with a shit eating grin. It was good to see she had quickly recovered from the incident, but he hoped and prayed it wasn’t her excellent acting fooling him again. He spared her a momentary bored glance as response before returning back to the words on the page.

      She knew it was all for show, he had issues reading when other people were being disruptive and likely hasn’t read a single word on the page in several minutes. The curse of hypervigilance and always being on the ready to go. Especially in situations where his nerves were shot, which she could tell they were at this point. She could also tell sometime in the next 30 minutes he’d be ready to leave, if not sooner than that.

                        “We’re sorry too, right Knuckles?” 

      Sonic finally let go of the red echidna, who was still shaking with anger but looked to be trying breathing exercises. Rouge found it funny, but Shadow found it pitiful. Not in the pathetic kind of way, but in all actuality, it was quite relatable. Anger wasn’t his strong suit either. Of course, he’d never admit that aloud. His pride couldn’t handle that kind of admittance, especially not when the echidna didn’t deserve it.

                   “Yeah, yeah whatever. The asshole made his damn point. I won’t talk about family, alright?!” 

      Knuckles turned away before he could spit out any more venom, his shoulders rigid in stance as he waddled angrily to the mathematics section of the library. Shadow assumed it was because he was lacking in that subject, not taking the echidna for someone who could even solve a simple addition problem without using his fingers to count.

      As if reading his mind, Sonic piped up.

                       “Knuckles isn’t as stupid as everyone thinks, you know? He just doesn’t use his brain the way the rest of us do. We’re all different, after all. Get him started on history or ancient architecture, he sounds like a big ol’ nerd. Kinda like Tails is a tech nerd and I’m a jock through and through, we all have our talents!”

      The bat beside Shadow slid off him, sitting up and crossing one leg over the other, gesturing for Sonic to sit down once again. He would have rathered her not invite her stupidly optimistic friends to partake in conversation, he just wanted them to leave so he could finally read, especially since he was desperately into this book. However, once Rouge decided something, he could rarely talk her out of it. 

      Not that he was any different. He supposed it was a sibling dynamic as age old as life itself. Aggravating just as much as it was ancient. Perhaps if the red echidna - now dubbed as Knuckles - was less irritating, he would ask him about it as a joke about his interests. That thought in itself was laughable, as if he’d ever willingly partake in a conversation with that jackass echidna.

                 “Oh, we know Blue. Shadow is just crude and blunt with his language. It’s just two similar personalities mixing harshly, I’m sure. You know how Knux is - just as stubborn and out of the loop as my brother here.”

      Shadow huffed out of his nose at that, trying to resist the urge to look up and stare at Sonic, who he heard plop down in the chair directly in front of him. In his peripherie, he could swear he saw the blue hedgehog’s tan arms resting on the table. As if he was leaning in, as if he was trying to get Shadow’s attention despite talking to Rouge. 

                          “Trust me, I’ve noticed. So what are you doing up so early, anyway?”

       Rouge laughed softly at that, trying to keep her voice down since they weren’t technically supposed to be chatting like old friends in a public library dedicated to studying. They were already getting so many looks from the library staff as is, and she knew her brother’s comfort level on that sort of thing.

       Shadow shouldn’t have acted like such a rule breaker before, because now if he spoke up about librarian policy he’d just look like a hypocrite about the whole legality thing. Regardless, he didn’t hide the fact that he was uncomfortable by the glare he shot her.

       She promptly ignored it, as she always did.

                 “Believe it or not, a certain hedgehog dragged me out of bed this morning. Something about wanting to ‘obtain the newest ultimate knowledge’ that the library had to offer.” 

      This was enough to finally get him to snap up from his book completely again, looking at her with freshly narrowed eyes. He knew she knew that her bait to get him to put the book down was working, and he hated her for it more than anything.

            “I did not say ultimate, nor did I drag you out of bed. Your choice to barge into my room was your’s and your’s alone . Also, it’s not my fault you don’t wake up at reasonable hours.” 

      Rouge tried so hard to keep her snickers at bay, the amusement on her face wrinkling her eyes as well as showing off that little dimple that was so prominent in her cheek. Shadow getting sassy in his ‘library voice’ was the funniest thing to her, and he knew this, which is why he was now simmering with unbridled contempt for her. 

      He felt even more embarrassed when Sonic joined in with her, obviously thinking this situation was even more hilarious than the Knuckles one, considering he couldn’t keep his laughter to himself. The ebony hedgehog made eye contact with the librarian, giving her an apologetic look. 

                “And it’s- it’s not my fault you wake up at 5 AM. Come on , Shadow! Take a joke. Lighten up a little! No need to get so mad over a little spilt milk, right?” 

     The bat grabbed his arm before he could fully retreat, her hand preventing him from fleeing like he had begun to do seconds prior. He now could see Sonic’s head tilting to the side to see Shadow’s face. Their eyes met, and goddamnit, he could easily pry Rouge off of him but he couldn’t pry that look off Sonic’s face. Even if he could, it likely would not be the appropriate reaction to this situation.

                        “Yeah, Shads. Take a joke, we’re laughing with you not at you. I, for one, think libraries for sure are packed full of ultimate knowledge .”

      That hopeful yet smug look. Those emerald eyes asking him to stay but that smirk that was taunting him for his temperamental reactions. The lighthearted way he spoke, as if they’ve been friends for a decade despite barely knowing one another. It made him sick , and his stomach lurched. The nickname was just as dumb as the nickname he regarded Knuckles with, and he wanted to yell at him for calling him that again but he couldn’t manage to do it for whatever reason. The feeling in his gut from earlier was expanding, almost enough to puke on the spot if he didn’t clench his teeth so hard behind his tight grimace just now. 

      With an evening sigh from his nose, he slid back into his seat fully and shook his sister’s arm off of him. He crossed both arms over one another, looking away from the blue hedgehog finally, not making eye contact with either parties present. Before Sonic could open his mouth to speak again, Knuckles returned quite loudly, slamming several textbooks the height of a small toddler down on the table.

      It was enough to make all of them flinch, but while all the others recovered, Shadow sat frozen in his seat looking at the echidna with bewilderment. He didn’t even blink when a librarian came over to scold the echidna that this was his last warning, nor when he sat down next to Sonic. It wasn’t until he felt Rouge nudge his ankle with her foot that he snapped out of his daze. 

                   “All these damn books and I still can’t find the one that Tails told me to borrow. I swear, if that one dumb purple chameleon has it again-”

      Shadow took a deep breath, tuning out the conversation that began between the three of them. He needed something to ground him, and quick. The ebony hedgehog couldn’t even remember what had triggered the feeling, just that he was sinking, and sinking fast. His eyes looked over at the blue hedgehog in front of him, and he noticed the animated way his hands moved in the conversation. How distracted he was by Rouge and Knuckles, how upsetting that was for some inexplicable reason. How full of life and wonder his face seemed, how drawn to it Shadow felt.

      Without realizing what he was doing, he slid down in his seat, just enough to bump his foot with Sonic’s in a similar way Rouge had done to him moments prior. The blue hedgehog stuttered in what he was saying, earning confused looks from both Rouge and Knuckles, but just smiled wider and began talking once more. Without missing a beat, Sonic readjusted himself so he was sitting more off the edge of his seat, his foot moving so he could entagle his ankle around Shadow’s. 

      It was warm, the ankle that pressed against his through his boots. Shadow shouldn’t of been able to feel the heat of Sonic’s skin through the layers of their shoes and socks, that wasn’t logical. Ankles weren’t supposed to be that warm, but he swore he could feel it, and it was bringing him rapidly back down to Earth. Shadow felt like he was literally crash landing, his heart doing flips and causing that nauseous feeling to erupt in his body again. Why was he feeling like this? What is wrong with him this morning? With hesitance, he opened his book back up, pretending to read again. 

      None of the words on the page were registering, though. Instead, his mind was having a horrible debate. Sonic’s ankle against his had done its job in grounding him, so he should move it away now, right? But every time he thought about doing so, his heart began racing even more with anxiety. Why was he so nervous? Why did he suddenly care what the other hedgehog was thinking, why was he finding it so hard to even look up at him? 

      Finally making the decision that this was ridiculous and childish behavior, he slammed his book and yanked his ankle away. Shadow barely looked up on time to see Sonic’s face hit the edge of the table, just barely catching himself from falling flat on his ass. Shadow immediately jolted in his seat at the sight, blinking several times, before the echidna beside Sonic bristled.

                     “ WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?!

      The blue hedgehog lifted his head and held his now bleeding nose, blinking several times in dazed stupor. Shadow hadn’t realized moving his ankle away so fast would caused the hedgehog to lose his seating so quickly. He didn’t realize Sonic was even on the edge of his seat - Once again, he was beginning to feel the world around him slipping again, but now he lost his one chance at grounding himself. 

      That is, until Rouge grabbed Shadow’s arm and whispered to him harshly.

                “Shadow, what is going on with you?!”

      He opened his mouth a few times, trying to find the right words to say, but nothing was coming out like he wanted it to. When Rouge noticed this, she sighed and lost any bite in her words that she had, making a small ‘tch’ sound with her tongue. She turned to Knuckles, who looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel from how strained he looked, and Sonic, who was looking sheepish and shy for some reason.

                “I think I’ve had enough of libraries today, sorry boys. Call me if you guys go to lunch later?”

       Sonic smiled insanely bright through the blood that slipped between his fingers and down his knuckles, just as a librarian came over to scold them once more. She nearly paled when she saw blood dripping on the hard wood table. Shadow wasn’t sure why the blue hedgehog wasn’t joining in on his friend’s anger, it was only logical to be mad that someone broke your nose. That thought completely dissipated when he heard the other speak in such a cheery, angelic tone despite the extra nasal behind clots of blood.

                          “For sure! Shadow has my number, too, if he wants to come. I love hanging out with you guys, it’s always a riot!” 

       Knuckles double takes at that, and looked like he was about to scream bloody murder before the librarian finally came to her senses and ushered Sonic over to some tissues, instructing him where the nurse’s wing was. Before the echidna could whip his head around to take his frustrations out on the ebony hedgehog instead, he noticed that he somehow retreated quicker than physically possible. Now standing alone in the library, the history and ancient architecture major blanked completely on what just happened.

                    What the fuck was with everybody today?! 

Chapter Text

This was absolutely ridiculous. 

            “Come on, Shadow! We’re going to be late if you don’t hurry your ass up!”

      Absolutely, batshit crazy, explicitly ridiculous. 

            “ Shadow! Are you even listening? Come on , don’t chicken out now!”

      Taking a deep breath, he looked in the mirror again, trying to smooth out his quills that were standing on end. 

            “.... Hun, don’t shut me out, come on. I know it’s been two weeks, if you really don’t want to, you don’t have to. Just communicate with me, okay?”

      Two weeks. That’s right, it’s been two weeks since the library incident. Two weeks since he’s left the house, or the garage, or even got up to look at himself, or anything. Two whole weeks. He felt ridiculous to have worried Rouge like that, he felt like a goddamn fool for shutting down almost completely again. Why was finding excuses to leave the house so difficult? It felt like every opportunity that came up was immediately shot down by an equally if not more important issue at hand.

      It itches at him that he hadn’t even touched his motorcycle in all that time, despite the growing necessity to do so. He now glanced at it, feeling guilty he neglected something so prized and dear to him. Could he really truly blame himself for that, though? He was passionately engaged in making up some courses online, trying to update his job title that frankly, he rarely used anymore. 

      Shadow ached to use it more than he ached to touch the vehicle he’s hugged close to him for years. He ached to be useful to society again, instead of sitting alone in his room doing nothing of importance. His grief wasn’t going to drag him down again, he wasn’t going to suffer from the flames of his own anger anymore. Not when he was often the brunt of that anger, not when it hurt Rouge and everyone else he was beginning to somewhat care for. 

      With a deep breath, he turned towards the knob of the door and unlocked it, opening it up to peak out at her. The bat who plagued his thoughts stood there, fully dressed and ready, her eyes glimmering with hope and worry. He knew he shouldn’t feel bad for making her get like this, he knew she cared and wanted him to let her care. Despite the logic he tried to convince himself with, his thoughts turned self deprecative again. Why couldn’t he just banish them to the back of his mind like he could do everything else? Like he did with his memories? 

      This was ridiculous, this whole situation, this whole entire scenario. 

      Absolutely. Fucking. Ridiculous. 

            “Can I come in, ya big softie?” 

      Shadow took a deep breath, nodding before opening the door all the way, watching weakly as she sauntered in and turned the lights on. As he closed the door, she got a good look at him finally, gasping.

            “Oh hun, you look stunning! ” 

      The hedgehog literally groaned, running a hand down his face. He should’ve known that was coming. Shadow didn’t mean to over-dress the occasion, but considering how Rouge was dressed he couldn’t help but think that maybe he was under-dressed. Her ruby red dress was split at the hip, attractively showing off her leg as well as what Shadow could only assume was a frilly thong. Her hair was curled so it fell off her shoulders, and teal eyes were complemented with a magenta-purple shade for once instead of sky-blue.

      The whole situation, once again, was ridiculous. He had no idea why she insisted on all of this in the first place. He would’ve flat out denied her this evening if it weren’t for the fact he was expected of by someone fairly important to him. 

      At least it won’t be like Sonic’s overcrowded party, and he’ll know more people there this time since his invitation came from a more trusted source than Rouge and her friends. Shadow thanked the heavens for that, because he wasn’t sure how he’d survive if she somehow managed to wedge Sonic’s whole entire party of friends into a singular restaurant. Reservations or not, he doubted they even had the wait staff for that sort of event. 

                  “So I’m assuming it has your official stamped seal of approval, then?”

      Rouge smiled and hung her arms off his shoulders in a loose hug, pulling him over to look in the mirror. It felt weird, seeing them side by side. They really didn’t look like siblings, because they weren’t, not by blood. Anyone would’ve thought that with how they grew up, they’d end up in some sort of relationship. Truthfully, could he blame that dumb echidna for misunderstanding? If looks could kill alone, they’d probably certainly be able to do it.

            “ Of course it does, you big softie! You look handsome in a suit. The place we’re going to is real fancy, so you did perfect. This is exactly your kind of element, so no need to be tense, alright? You’ll blend in better than anyone else there. And maybe you’ll impress a certain someone , of course … If you’re looking for it.”

      No, he could never see Rouge romantically. Instead, what he saw in their reflection was a special kind of family. The family he never got to keep when growing up, but he got to keep her. She was the one consistent part of his childhood that never faded away. She wasn’t going to last forever, either, but it was better than being all alone. Was this whole entire charade worth it, too? To be less alone?

                  “This is still all so ridiculous. Why would I want to impress anyone, anyways?”

      The bat huffed at that, letting go of the hug they were in to face him, slapping his shoulder. Shadow barely registered the pain in it, he never really did. Since when did she begin doing that, exactly? It was several years ago, but he couldn’t recall the actual incident when it began. The slapping, the playful punches, the sibling-like irritation she threw at him and only him.

            “The only thing that’s ridiculous is that you trust your therapist’s advice more than me. I didn’t manage to drag you out anywhere until you met with her yesterday, and now here you are, drop dead gorgeous and about to snatch up whatever hot stud there is tonight!”

      A glint of playfulness hit her turquoise eyes as she leaned in, snickering at her brother who fidgeted in the reflection of the mirror at that. She knew he wasn’t looking for anyone right now, but she knew that nervous look more than anything. He was embarrassed by what she said, which could only mean one thing. He was likely thinking of the library incident again.

            “You know, if I give you an anxiety warning, will you promise not to back out of this?”

      Shadow threw her a cautious look, stopping his tie readjustments to turn away from the mirror finally, looking at her. 

                  “If you’re talking about the fact that Sonic will be there, I already know.”

      This threw Rouge for a loop, and she froze in her spot as she watched her brother walk over to one of his many workbenches, picking up his phone and keys and pocketing them in his suit. She was still gaping as he squatted to inspect his motorcycle in that creepy obsessive way he tends to do whenever he’s trying to deflect a conversation.

            “ How do you know that, exactly?”

      The ebony hedgehog fiddled with something on the motorcycle’s wheel, pretending not to hear her. That was bullshit and they both knew it, his hearing was superb and she was practically howling in protest now. 

            “Shadow, I’m serious! I just found out this morning! How did you learn this precious intel before me!

      This brought the hedgehog’s attention back to her, lifting an eye ridge.

                  “You mean you didn’t snoop for once?”

      She took a deep breath, steadying herself and walking over to him, sitting on the motorcycle seat with as serious of an expression as she could give him. 

            “I don’t know what there was to snoop about, you’ve been locked up in here until yesterday evening. Unless you mean when you went to the bathroom or ate a pop tart that one time, but I was busy registering for classes in the fall. It’s why I forgot to bring you dinner one night, and also why I ordered take out the whole week.”

      At the sound of her complete, genuine honesty, Shadow sighed and got out of his crouching position, motioning for her to scoot over. Normally, Shadow never wanted people to sit on parts of his motorcycle that wasn’t the seat. In fact, no one was allowed on his bike other than her, and even then there were rules she has to follow. Like when, what, how, and why.

      So the fact that he essentially was asking her to sit on the metal of the parked machine, so that he could take a seat next to her, was phenomenal. She didn’t even think he’d trust her ever sitting on anything that could be considered fragile or precious goods, considering how big of an ass she has. The fact that he trusted her was enough to make her act extra gentle, not wanting to even accidentally bump her heel into a tire let alone the engine beneath her. 

      When Shadow sat down with a huff, he fished his phone out, unlocking it. Oh, now this has got her full attention. She leaned over to watch him, which halted his fingers. She lifted an eye ridge up at him.

                  “ Normally I value my privacy, you know this.”

      Rouge nodded her head erratically in understanding, now buzzing with excitement when she could hear the ‘but’ being implied with every inch of tone in his voice. Her fidgeting only made Shadow clutch his phone more, hesitance etching onto his face.

                  “However, since you’ve been respectful of my boundaries lately, I suppose I could-”

      Rouge snatched his phone right out of his hands the moment his death grip loosened to open his messages. She began pouring over the information, her body hunched in unhealthy obsession as her Full Snoop Mode(™) officially engaged. The hedgehog beside her sighed in exasperation, but the tension in his shoulders faded. 

      She noticed how he was looking anywhere but her right now, as she began to look through some of his messages. Shadow didn’t message a lot of people, just Espio, Vector, his therapist, sometimes Cream on the occasion if there was an emergency, herself, and Omega. 

      So when she saw a new name at the top, ‘FAKER’ in all caps and a favorited star next to it, her gasp was full body. Nobody had a star on Shadow’s phone, he doesn’t even have that many people in order to warrant a star. She hopped off the motorcycle in full exhilaration while opening the messaging log, pacing as she read quickly and erratically, nervously biting at the cuticles of her fingers.

 

Last Thursday 00:55

Shadow: Hey.

Shadow: You. 

Shadow: Blue hedgehog.

FAKER: oh hey!

FAKER: sorry

FAKER: who is this again?

Shadow: I didn’t realize you gave your number  out to so many strangers who call you blue  hedgehog, faker.

FAKER: hmmm

FAKER: now i wonder who this could be?

FAKER: certainly not some grumpy ol fake hedgehog

FAKER: no definitely not 

FAKER : he’s too smug to text me without an ulterior motive

FAKER : especially not when it’s about to be 1 in the morning

Shadow: I’ll let him know you said that. 

Shadow: I’m sure he’d find it very humorous that y ou make up fake scenarios in your head about when and how he’ll possibly text you.

FAKER: oh haha really funny

FAKER: in all seriousness tho

FAKER: its great to hear from the royal gloom himself!

Shadow: The "Royal Gloom?"

Shadow: Is that meant to be an insult? 

Shadow: It’s not very creative, faker.

FAKER: man

FAKER: you even text like i’d imagine you to

FAKER: like someone's lame grammar fluent grandpa or something

Shadow: So you do imagine elaborate fantasies of me texting you, then.

FAKER: you left me waiting for weeks about that party follow up,  then you gave me a nasty nose bleed in a public library, and you expect me not to imagine some sort of apology message?

FAKER: you could at least say sorry or something, faker.

Shadow: I’m not a faker, we are both aware of this.

Shadow: I have nothing to apologize for, also.

FAKER: says the one who’s just going to embarrass himself  again the next time he sees me

FAKER: which by the way

Shadow: Whatever you’re about to send, I assure you my answer is going to be a no.

FAKER: oh come on!

FAKER: ok how about this, how about i honestly tell you how I think of you, and then i’ll ask you and you give me a real answer instead of automatically defaulting to a no?

Shadow: I didn’t realize someone with such limited brain cells could even spell the word automatically, let alone prompt such a non-idiotic suggestion.

FAKER: i don’t know whether to be flattered or angry, so i’m just  gonna settle for both here

Shadow: I was just stating a simple fact.

FAKER: yeah okay well

FAKER: you’re not making this easy ya know

FAKER: not that i mind a good challenge 

FAKER: otherwise i wouldn’t play everything in “hard” mode

FAKER: if you catch my drift

Shadow: I never claimed to be easy, and I  certainly never said your efforts were appreciated or reciprocated. I don’t really do friends, here.

FAKER: whoa whoa who said anything about doing?

FAKER: glad to know you find us friends though!

Shadow: Whatever you’re on about, you should honestly just shut up while you know what’s good for you.

FAKER: i never know what’s good for me and i like it like that

FAKER: you know i’m just going to come right out and say it

FAKER: with how much you seem to hate talking to people

FAKER: you seem to really like texting me back within seconds

FAKER: and idk if i’m overstepping some imaginary line or  whatever you call them but like

FAKER: you seem like a dude with a lot more to say then you let on

 

Last Friday 13:00

FAKER: haha real funny, leave me on read like that after i pointed it out, real hilarious

FAKER: if i didn’t know any better

FAKER: i’d think what i said had you flustered 

 

Monday 14:32

FAKER: you know

FAKER: i saw this really cute edgy shirt yesterday that had a m otorcycle on it and thought of you

FAKER: i feel like you’d be the type of person to wear dumb  edgy shirts like that to bed or somethin

 

Wednesday 13:21

FAKER: hey

FAKER: faker

FAKER: are you going to let me ask this question or like

FAKER: are you just going to let me sit on read forever?

Shadow: Do you ever fucking give up or are you just going to let me sit here and roll my eyes at your pathetic attempts

to get my attention forever?

FAKER: i told you already i get what I want when i want it

Shadow: You’re a spoiled brat, then.

Shadow: One who seemingly wakes up at noon every day, if I had to speculate.

Shadow: Even more reason not to waste my time on your childish whimsical.

FAKER: look buddy

FAKER: i work hard for what i get

FAKER: if i was spoiled i wouldn’t wait so long for a response

FAKER: you look at my timestamps that obsessively tho huh?

FAKER: nice to know you’re a man who likes to be timely

Shadow: Just spit it out, already.

FAKER: spit what out?

FAKER: for once i haven't swallowed anythin

FAKER: i mean i can if you want me to but like

Shadow: Your damn question, hedgehog.

FAKER: oh

FAKER: i didn’t think you’d ever let me ask

Shadow: Nothing was stopping you from  asking while I was ignoring you for days.

FAKER: well i’m not going to ask it to a brick wall!

Shadow: If you don’t spit it out I’m going t o go back to ignoring you again.

FAKER: if you really wanted to ignore me you would just block m y number

FAKER: you wouldn’t of messaged me out of nowhere in the  middle of the night that one day either

Shadow: Do you not learn from previous mistakes? If I can ignore you for almost a

whole week to make a clear point, do you think I’m above blocking you?

FAKER: is that what that was?

FAKER: you being petty?

FAKER: wow and you say i’m childish

FAKER: guess temper tantrums are a popular thing nowadays

Shadow: That’s it, you’re officially not allowed to ever ask me any questions for the duration of us knowing one another.

Shadow: Since you seemingly don’t know when  to ask them, even when being told to.

FAKER: sorry shads i’m not really good with directions

FAKER:  i’m not really good with directions

FAKER: but bold of you to assume you can stop me

FAKER: wait does that mean you want to know one another?

FAKER: oh come on don’t leave me on read again!

FAKER: you’re such a baby and a royal gloom

FAKER: quit being such a fake hedgehog, shads

 

Thursday 4:00

Shadow: Do you know Ms. Rose?

FAKER: oh so you finally decided to show up

FAKER: guess you couldn’t wait a week this time huh

Shadow: Just answer the damn  question, hedgehog.

FAKER: ok ok jeez

FAKER: unfortunately yeah

Shadow: Unfortunately?

FAKER: one of my many childhood friends

FAKER: and annoyingly adoring fans

Shadow: I find it hard to believe someone  so unlikable has ‘adoring fans.’

FAKER: yeah well sometimes being a star athlete has its perks

FAKER: why do you ask 

Shadow: I was invited to a dinner party involving her.

FAKER: whoa what you were invited to that?

Shadow: I am associated with a close friend of her’s that I’ve known for years.

FAKER: hah so you do have friends

Shadow: If that’s what you wish to call it, then sure. I have “friends.”

FAKER: well

FAKER: i guess i don’t have to ask my question then

Shadow: Explain.

FAKER: i was going to ask if you’d want to hang out sometime

FAKER: but now i don’t have to

FAKER: i’ll just go to that dumb fancy dinner thing that ames has been bugging me to go to and bug you then

Shadow: So you weren’t going to go and support your friends at a big celebratory engagement dinner, but you are willing to do so only when the person you’re harassing happens to be showing up?

FAKER: wow when you say it like that you make me sound like some dumb crazy stalker and a cruddy friend

Shadow: You’re telling me you’re not?

FAKER: i can’t tell if that’s a joke or if you seriously think i’m that creepy

Shadow: Creepy? 

Shadow: No.

Shadow: Annoying?

Shadow: Yes.

FAKER: for someone who is petty and breaks people’s noses without warning you sure are judging 

Shadow: If you’re trying to imply I’m annoying,  then you can take that notion and shove it far up  your ass, faker.

FAKER: wouldn’t be the first thing i’ve been told to shove up  there

Shadow: If I’m annoying, you’re literally a hemorrhoid.

FAKER: you’ve got an interesting fixation on ass topics

FAKER: anyone ever tell you that before?

FAKER: i think that says a lot about you, mr doom and gloom

 

Today 13:45

FAKER: you better not do the irl equivalent of leaving me on  read

FAKER: that would really suck ya know

 

Today 16:29

FAKER: see ya tonight, faker

FAKER: don’t forget to dress sharp!

      Once she got to the latest messages, she took a deep breath, trying not to laugh about it. Her shit eating grin was enough already to set Shadow off, and he continued to look anywhere else but her. Oh, so they were playing that game now, huh? 

            “No reason to impress anyone, hm? Nice to know you found someone to impress before you even got there, hun..”

      Shadow whipped his head around to look at her incredulously, but before he could open his mouth to retort or deny, she simply tosses his phone back to him. He narrowly caught it before it scuffed the side of his bike, his eyes now an on-fire glare.

            “It’s nice to be able to look clearly to the blue sky again, isn’t it? You haven’t avoided it since.”

      The ebony hedgehog paused at that, slowly sinking in her words as she opened the garage door. The sun was beginning to set, and the stars could slowly be seen dotting the sky. Shadow found himself breathless at her meaning, at how the night sky illuminated the sparkle of her dress and her smile, nodding his head slowly in agreeance to it. They stood there for a few more lengthy minutes, just exchanging silent looks and appreciation for how far things have come.

                  “I think I am beginning to enjoy the day time far more than night, that’s for sure.”

      Rouge knew he wasn’t ready to admit it, but he didn’t have to. That phrase instead was all confirmation she needed on how he felt, even if he wasn’t a hundred percent sure of what those feelings are in itself. It wasn’t going to be easy, though. Her brother was stubborn, and he prioritized his recovery over new feelings he couldn’t decipher. 

      Little did he know that maybe these new emotions were signs that he was finally reaching a place in his recovery where his heart could open up again. Finally, she was able to witness him show others who he really was, and maybe that could lead to him showing that soft side to others, the one she’s grown so very accustomed to.

      Another thought nipped at her, though, as she realized he probably thought it was one-sided. Of course he would, why wouldn’t he? In exasperation she sighed, pulling some make-up supplies out of her purse before walking over to her brother with them. The hedgehog  seemed to disagree with Rouge’s need to touch him up, but didn’t move away as she began playing with an eyeshadow palette, applying it to his now closed eyelids.

            “You’re so clueless about all of this, aren’t you, big softie?”

      Shadow shot her an apprehensive glare the moment her hand pulled away, sharing nothing but a ‘hmph’ with her as response. Rouge knew she wasn’t going to get a comment on that, but she had hoped at least he’d go on the defensive. Sometimes he can make teasing no fun with that sourpuss mood of his. 

      For a few more minutes, Rouge touched up his face to make him look a bit more flashy than she normally would make him. She still attempted to keep it a more naturalistic approach, as she knew he wasn’t too fond of people recognizing he was wearing product, but there was no way you could wear a suit that good and go wrong with a bit more red. 

      The moment she was done, she placed her trusty equipment back into her bag, before hopping on in the back of the sweet motorcycle they both adored. With the start of an engine, just like that, they were off, driving down familiar backroads and kicking up dirt with their speed. The bat resumed a now similar hold on her brother, the one that is now becoming more of a regular occurrence for the two of them. 

      It was nice to be able to have this moment of bonding between them, just the two of them riding on the seemingly dangerous bike going several numbers higher than the speed limit, something reserved between two siblings. It was just like how things were before everything got so painfully complicated in their lives. 

      Then again, though, it had always been complicated from the beginning, hadn’t it? For the first time in forever, it didn’t feel complicated, though.

      Rouge wanted this to never end, but with a doubtful thought, she began to realize it might. Even if Shadow was progressing at a fast pace, he was also becoming more interested in other matters. He was getting better while she stayed the same, and soon he’ll have a life and friends outside of her. They’ll hang out less and less, will he really need her, then?

      No, she couldn’t think like that. Shadow would always need his sister, just like Rouge always needed her brother. Getting new friends and socializing more was just a new healthy habit for the both of them, and there was nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with sharing him with the world, just like she was excited for previously.

      The bat wished for that, so desperately. Wished he’d get out more, wished he’d make new friends, wished he could share his soft big heart with the world. There was no reason to regret that now, especially when it was proof he was becoming happier. He’d always be her big brother no matter how far he goes in life, and he’ll always rely on her when he needs it. 

            But will he really need it? Will he really, really ever need you? You’re an unwanted variable, here.

                  “Rouge, we’re here.”

            You weren’t wanted back then, are you really wanted now? You should just run away again, start anew.

                   “.... Rouge?”

            Does anyone you care about really love you for you? It wouldn’t hurt to just pack up and leave. No one will miss you

                   “Hey, are you… are you okay?”

             They’ve all been using you since the beginning, anyways. Everyone always does. No one ever truly changes, afterall.

                   “Do you need me to drive you back home?”

             Just constantly useless in everything you do, not belonging anywhere, not fitting in, not welcomed. It’s no wonder Knuckles won’t-

                    “ROUGE!”

      Teal eyes flinched before widening and blinking, that foggy distant look finally fading away from her eyes. Shadow was standing off of his bike, facing her with both hands on either side of her face. Her cheeks stung a bit from the impact of his palms, but it was barely noticeable in her daze. Normally Rouge would be mad that he was smearing her foundation, but she couldn’t be mad at the look in his eyes. Genuine worry and fear for her. She’s really gone and done it again, hasn’t she?

                     “ Are you okay? Do you need me to take us home?”

      Slowly, Rouge’s eyes widened eyes of shock turned to normal, blinking a few more times to truly adjust back to their surroundings. Everyone in the near vicinity seemed busy with where they needed to go, whether it be in the restaurant that held Amy’s formal party or passersby on the street. No one was looking at them, and Rouge was grateful. Out of context, Shadow might have been regarded with disgust for slapping such a fine lady such as herself. However, she really fucking needed that. Shadow had no idea how much she really, honestly fucking needed that.

             “No…. No, I’m okay. I just got lost in thought. Silly of me, right?”

      This didn’t seem to convince Shadow, moving his hands from her face to the bat’s shoulders. He squeezed them reassuringly, almost as if in apology for slapping her out of her daze moments before. Rouge swallowed, trying to readjust herself and put on her best ‘I’m okay’ face. Again, he didn’t seem like he believed her, but he removed his hands from her and held a hand out. Taking it, Rouge hopped off the motorcycle and let him lead her to the door.

                  “If you need to go home at any time , don’t wait until it’s gotten too bad to ask, okay?”

      Sighing, Rouge nodded her head, throwing him an appreciative smile. She doubted once the social scene began that she’d need such a thing. A crowd and enough sips of wine was all the distraction she needed right now. Inside the now slightly packed dining hall, the celebration was bound to commence. Rouge knew she had to slip in and seize her chance at a distraction, and this was the perfect place to do it, in her opinion.

             “Don’t worry, hun. No more out of character fits for me, I promise.”

      Again, doubt filled the ebony hedgehog’s eyes, especially at her flat tone of speaking, but he didn’t express it. Rouge was grateful for that, wanting anything but to worry him over something of such small significance. She could handle simple intrusive thoughts, she knew she could. It was better for him to focus on getting his own worries out of the way, too. He had a whole night of socializing, after all.

              “I’m going to go grab some punch, you go find that little friend of yours.”

      Shadow gave her a skeptical look as Rouge released his hand, but she just chuckled at it. It was obvious by how nervous he looked that he either interpreted that wrong, or he was still worried about her, or that he wanted to use her as a crutch in this social situation. Alternatively, she thought, all fucking three . Ah, yes, that would be much more Shadow of him. 

               “I meant the one who invited you, but it wouldn’t hurt you to be the first hedgehog to get the upper hand. Got appearances to uphold, right? Catch the fish before it catches you.”

      The ebony hedgehog seemed to fluster at that, running a hand through his quills. She watched as Shadow fidgeted in place for a moment, before like a light switch, he was composed again. Rouge wished teasing him had longer lasting effects, he could seriously be no fun sometimes.

                  “That metaphor makes no sense. Neither of us are fish, we’re hedgehogs . Not to mention fish can’t catch- Hey ! I wasn’t done speaking- Rouge! ” 

      Rouge chuckled as she slipped through the crowd, effectively losing her brother. Although, she knew if he was truly trying to catch her, he probably could. The dummy was stubborn like that, even if he was clueless. The bat chuckled again as her eyes scanned the room, spotting the punch as well as her true goal of slipping away.

      Honestly, this place was classier than she’d ever expected. Everyone here was dressed up like they were told to be, the orderves were lined up neatly, and tables were situated in a spaced out manner so well done that the main floor area resembled a ball room. Rose petals seemed to scatter the room tastefully instead of disruptively. Amy had really outdone herself, once again. Honestly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she organized her own wedding, too.

      As she got closer to the punch table, her eyes landed on the real reason she was over here. At every party, this is where he’ll stand. Didn’t matter what type of party or how early or late into the party it was, he stood by the drinks at all times, seemingly guarding the alcohol. It honestly wasn’t fair, but maybe she liked unfair. It was better than boring .

      Red dreadlocks, big rough hands, and a sturdy expression that tried to stay neutral but would every once in a while turn upright in amusement. She can imagine the huff under his breath, or just barely making it outside of his nose. The way his amethyst eyes pretended to act serious when everything else about him screamed clumsy naivety. 

      The way he tripped over himself, like he was still getting used to his own limbs, like a baby deer. A very angry, easy to play around with, baby deer. Rouge craved that level of innocence again, wanted so badly to go back in the past and preserve that level of child-like wonder for her own self. Yet, those eyes of his always held a stone cold seriousness that betrayed all of his childish ways, the one that indefinitely wanted something concrete to hold onto. 

      Today, he seemed extra dashing. His dreadlocks looked even less like quills, coming down in waves over his padded grey suit shoulders. A singular braid made its way around the sides of his muzzle, framing his face in a professional yet almost historical in a way. Out of his element was an exaggeration, but the look suited him more than any element he would ever feel comfortable in. Like he was brought from the past itself, like his wardrobe was personally organized by people who grew up several generations before him. 

      To say Rouge enjoyed watching him squirm nervously, trying to readjust himself to look more natural in an environment he could never hope to blend into? Such a thing was an understatement. She absolutely ate it up like the eye candy it was, and she debated watching from a distance a bit longer just to see him struggle, possibly the whole night if she was lucky.

      After all, if she made her way over, she’d be making him so flustered and angry he’d forget what he was doing or why he was even here. Truthfully, she was stuck between wanting to keep herself amused a little longer, and wanting to help him out of his anxious fit of nerves. Either way, she’d end up entertained.

                      “Ya gonna stand there all night lookin pretty, or are you gonna actually go say hi to him? He was really excited to know you were coming, you know.”

      Rouge didn’t even have to turn to know she was being regarded with a sly, mischievous smirk. She’d know that charismatic and cheeky voice from anywhere, and even if she didn’t, the words and tone could really only belong to one honorary blue hedgehog. 

            “Thought maybe if I played hard to get, he’d be a little more up front with his feelings. A girls gotta play her cards, you know.”

      Sonic hummed, leaning against the table beside her. The food looked good, and she guessed that’s why the hedgehog was over here. Although, he could’ve also possibly spotted her from the crowd. A knowing smirk touched her lips as Rouge turned to him finally, flapping her wings once to express her sarcastic intent.

             “You should take a note from my book. Stick too close to me, and he’ll find you too soon. Gotta make them wait for it, it’ll make them want you more .”

      This threw the hedgehog off, shuffling a bit and blinking at her incredulously. Sometimes, she could see a resemblance in the way Sonic and Shadow behaved in these moments. Like a wall of something was crashing down for a few seconds, before it was quickly reconstructed. It appears that what she said was unexpected and had shocked him, but being the speedy hog he was, Sonic quickly recovered with a blinding smile.

                        “That so? Thought that Shads was a bit more impatient than that. You know, quick to leave ya in the dust if you couldn’t keep up. Good thing I’m real fast and easy , huh?”

      The bat hummed in a similar manner that Sonic had before, but instead of waiting until the other elaborated further like he had done with her, she simply smiled a bit more softly. Rouge touched his arm gently and gave him her best genuine look, without losing a touch of her slyness. Sonic honestly couldn’t tell how she did it. The amount of emotion she conveyed in the smallest of gestures, all the while exuding the confidence of someone who didn’t fear vulnerability.

               “Shadow is a stubborn man. You’d be surprised how persistent he can be about the things he’s really into. Trust me, we both know you can hold a whole room hostage with that winning smile of yours, Big Blue.”

      No, she feared it. The blue hedgehog knew that to be a lie, all of that sure-of-herself mannerisms. If she truly didn’t fear vulnerability, she wouldn’t be playing a losing game of charades with Knuckles these last two years. Usually, if you’re blunt with him, he’s blunt with you. The more you dance around him, the more confused and frustrated he gets. When Knuckles is confused and frustrated, he goes on the defensive and closes up. Closes up because he is scared of being vulnerable towards people who can’t bare their vulnerability towards him.

      It probably had to do with his home life, and Sonic knew that much. Sonic knew this about his childhood best friend more than anything else in the world itself, and the games Rouge were playing was only going to bring them both pain. In a way, it already was. He’s seen the way they tend to bicker and fight, like they have something they want to say to each other but instead of saying it, they expect the other to already know. With a soft smile of his own, he held the hand she placed on his arm in his palm.

                      “I’ll keep that in mind! Have a feeling that running around and leaving him guessing ain’t gonna end well, though. Just because I’m sure with that body of his he could keep up with me in a race, doesn’t mean I wanna wear him out before I can even start the real workout.”

      Rouge threw her head back in a cackle, taking her hand from Sonic’s to slap the hedgehog across the shoulder playfully. It hurt, incredibly bad, but he didn’t show it and instead smiled even more blindingly bright. Hopefully, through that amusement, she could see what he was trying to jab at. Of course, if she did, she didn’t show it as much as Sonic didn’t show how much his shoulder still ached undesirably.

            “Trust me, he could do this all day and still not be tired. I swear, I wish I had that level of manpower that you hedgehogs seem to have. I’d say give him the biggest work out you’ve got, he’ll need the extra time to figure shit out, anyways.”

      Looking up, Sonic noticed Knuckles had spotted them from how hard she laughed, and he could see the echidna readjusting himself one last time. The hedgehog had time to make a bit more conversation before the echidna sauntered over, so he just huffed in amusement. Might as well stall, give her a taste of surprise when he gets the upper hand first, for once.

                       “ What can I say? Manpower's all a hedgehog like mes got going! I know how to work my legs. I’m even better with my hips, as I’m sure you know. Gotta entertain a crowd somehow, and dancing is great and a fun work out! Plus, if it catches the attention of some people, who am I to judge? Give them a good show, but it ain’t always free, if you catch my drift.

      Rouge snorted in laughter, her shoulders shaking as she shook her head. It wasn’t in disagreement, though. Sonic knew this, he could see the amusement in her teal eyes, shining like clear fresh water. It was refreshing, honestly. As much as he hated bodies of water, talking with Rouge felt like a relaxing soak. 

             “Big Blue, you always know how to sell yourself. I wish all the handsome ones weren’t always taken or looking elsewhere. Glad to know my brother’s in good hands, though.”

      The feeling that someone would normally get when going to a creek or pond and just dippin your feet in. Listening to the gentle ripples around you, croaks of frogs and the soft padding of heavy turtle footsteps. Being surrounded by a ton of butterflies, moths, or fireflies. Night or day, it’d be the same with this gal. Soothing, alluring, looks like she’d be louder than life itself but insanely quiet and tame compared to how her outfits made her seem. A shroud of mystery that you thought you knew, but never quite did. 

                      “I have a feeling Shads not the only one whose in good hands, isn’t that right, buddy?

      Rouge’s eye ridge lifted in confusion before she felt arms wrap around her middle. Her first instinct was to punch the jackass who tried to hold her so intimately and fondly, but the moment she saw a similar dark muzzle appear to her left peripherie that instinct melted away. Instead, she smiled and batted her eyelashes towards the new visitor. 

      Sonic watched fondly at how much they looked like a couple, and hoped maybe tonight would be the night they snuck off and talked things out. Truly, truly discussed what needed to be done and said between them.

            “Well well well well, looks like I truly am in good hands tonight, huh?

      The echidna behind her flustered as she laughed, and the whole entire scene warmed the hedgehog, who was now growing to be a major third wheel. Seeing this as his chance to sneak off and continue searching for who he was actually trying to catch in all this commotion, he jutted his thumb out behind him just as Knuckles began grumbling.

                      “Looks like it! Gonna head out, got a broody hunk to pester into insanity. Hopefully he’ll be pulling quills from one of us one way or another, you know, if I’m lucky.”

      Knuckles looked confused and appalled by that, but Rouge smiled knowingly and waved him off flirtatiously. Honestly, Sonic wouldn’t be surprised if it took his best friend another few months to realize he was purposefully irritating a certain ebony hedgehog. That it was his way of just casually playing around with the feelings he had currently bubbling up inside of him.

      Sonic would be lying if he said how he felt might be obvious to most other people, but definitely not to Knuckles, and definitely not to himself. Why did he have to know how he felt to keep on feeling it, anyways? This new game that him and the mysterious hedgehog were playing set off a sensation that couldn’t even begin to be named, why would he sit around trying to think about putting a label on it when he could be throwing himself in, gut feelings and all?

      Oh man, did Shadow set off gut feelings. All sorts of them, both suggestive and non suggestive. Altogether, a flame always boiled away any doubts he had about just going for it. People always saw him as impulsive, but man, did he have so many doubts that people never saw, just culminating under the surface. Sonic knew he was an impulsive person in theory though and he wanted to doubt his lack of doubt here, but as he waded through this sea of people he didn’t know or care much about, he could hardly rationalize this situation.

      What was there to rationalize, here? He knew why he felt this way, and the ‘why’ was Shadow. The blue hedgehog wanted more of it, he desperately craved it. It was better than any adrenaline rush or runner’s high he could ever get. His friends told him to stop thrusting himself into dangerous situations just for the thrill of it, and he tried his best not to, but this wasn’t nearly as dangerous as some of his bigger stunts.

      Waiting late at night for a text message that might or might not be sent, ruining his sleeping schedule just to see if the ebony hedgehog would finally message him again. It was the feeling of competition, of feeling justly angry and passive aggressive when the other tiptoed around a conversation, of feeling confident when something he said could have hit a home run with the other. 

      That first night, when Sonic woke up to a text message and felt compelled to answer as though he didn’t know who was texting him? That was the turning point to all of this. 

      Shadow wasn’t just a mystery to be solved, no, Sonic had no patience for sleuthing. Instead, Shadow was a mystery he’s already cracked. Those expressions, that fake demeanor, everything about him was foreign yet familiar. Like he’s navigated those emotions hidden just beyond a stoic flat face once before, even with how little they knew each other. 

      As though those eyes could tell him the secrets of the world, and as if they already, in a way, have. Those secrets he swore he felt himself, like he can taste it on the tip of his tongue, but couldn’t quite form the words to describe them.

      Sonic wanted to continue to read those feelings, to see everything that Shadow was, even without the words. Something about that wordless exchange between their eyes was so downright enticing, and sure, the blue hedgehog realized that maybe if he wanted this to work out they’d eventually have to say something a bit more solid in terms of attraction here. 

      Yet, right now? The thrill was limitless, and it was all he wanted and all he needed. The thrill of knowing how Shadow felt, even as he deflected and insulted and literally denied him. It’d be different if the ebony hedgehog truly hated him, but there was no hate in the way he looked at Sonic. 

      Swallowing hard once he spotted Shadow, the blue hedgehog tried to steel his nerves. Before he could work up the nerve to walk over to him, however, ruby irises met green emeralds. That was the way he looked at Sonic, and he couldn’t name that emotion he saw in those red embers, just that it caused his body to feel as though it were aflame again.

      Sonic wasted no time in making his way over, and now that he was standing in front of the hedgehog, he could truly appreciate the suit the other hedgehog was wearing. The suit coat was a deep, dark grey, nearly black but light enough to not blend too drastically into his fur and quills. The button up beneath it was a deep dark bottom of the ocean blue, all topped off with a bloody wine-maroon colored plaid tie. 

      Honestly, with the grandpa watch on his wrist and his distasteful taste in ties, someone might call him old-fashioned. What Sonic saw was the most gorgeous mobian he’s seen in a long while. Somehow, Shadow managed to pull it all off perfectly and still look wildly professional about all of it.

      The tightness of his suit jacket and nearly form fitting dress pants made Sonic feel like maybe his simple button up and too-tight slacks were lacking. The cobalt blue hedgehog began subconsciously fiddling with the ends of his dress shirt, smiling sheepishly at Shadow, his heart racing with nerves that didn’t feel natural. He never got nervous, he never felt unsure of himself. Yet here he was, wondering if he should’ve bought new pants just for this occasion, after all

      The crimson red, dull and dark-grey shimmer of the ebony hedgehog’s half lidded eyes didn’t seem to be helping. Somehow, the angled lashes Shadow always had seemed to be razor sharp tonight, making him look a whole lot more deadly than he should be. Than anyone should be. It shot holes into Sonic, but instead of wanting to run away in intimidation, he wanted nothing more than to keep leaning in closer and closer.

                      “You look really! I mean, you look amazing... uhhh… Wow , when I said to dress sharp I didn’t mean… You know. This .”

      Sonic winced at his own lack of smoothness. Normally complimenting someone wasn’t a problem, flirting wasn’t ever an issue before. However, it was hard not to be speechless here. The blue hedgehog just wanted to desperately to fan himself a bit, get some of the fire out of his body that seems to have ignited just simply standing by Shadow. Sonic watched as the ebony hedgehog seemingly looked Sonic’s face over for understanding, as if trying to assess whether or not what he said was a compliment or an objection to his tastes in fashion.

      The outstretch of silence normally wasn’t a big deal for Sonic, after all body language was something he prided himself in knowing very well. However, those ruby eyes were so piercing, it serrated his limbs. Did he fuck up? Was his compliment not well received? Before the life of the party could open his mouth again, Shadow cut him off seemingly out of nowhere.

                  “You look… Rather appropriate for an event you didn’t truly wish to be at.”

      Sonic blinked several times, trying to catch up with what was being said to him. After sputtering for a few seconds, a shit-eating grin made its way on the blue hedgehog’s muzzle, and emerald eyes lit up like Christmas lights. Despite the confidence in Sonic’s tone and eyes, he shyly ran a hand through his disheveled quills. Fuck, when did he mess them up? He swore he brushed them a few minutes before leaving the house...

                      “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was a compliment. I look that good , huh?”

      This seemed to fluster the ebony hedgehog, which only made the last bit of nerves Sonic had melt away. Honestly, he just wanted to have some one-on-one with the grumpy male, but even though this was hardly a date, it was the best idea he’s had in a good few weeks. Being able to have fun with the hedgehog he rarely saw helped to solidify some things, like setting the ground he needed to run on.

      You can’t win a race if you don’t have something to run on, after all. As much as he always dreamed of flying, he hasn’t been able to. Sonic hasn’t even ridden on a plane since he was 12, and even then, he wasn’t the one piloting it. Not that he couldn’t. He didn’t need a proper license to fly to know that if you pull that one lever, you go fast, and if you tug the wheel, you pull up. 

      A wicked euphemism passed his mind about tugging something else nearby, but he thought best not to push his luck with shitty pick up lines. At least not yet.

                  “Don’t flatter yourself, hedgehog.”

      Sonic hummed, attempting to pocket his hands in his pants. It was a bit awkward to do so with how tightly fit they were, so he instead tucked his thumbs in them and let his hands casually rest on his thighs. Shadow regarded him with an amused look, so either he looked absolutely ridiculous or he looked fucking stunning.  

      Either way, Sonic flashed him a confident smirk, shrugging his shoulders.

                      “It’s not flattery if it’s true, faker. Glad to see ya made it, though.”

      Shadow opened his mouth to retort, which had his chest feeling fluttery with the anticipation of a good argument, before a loud and obnoxiously familiar voice broke the room. Despite it being years since he’s been last tackled, his body became alert and ready to defend itself, feet widening and becoming even flatter on the solid surface, in hopes he would not be knocked off said feet.

                            “ SONIC~! OH! I didn’t know you were going to make it! I thought you said Wrenches was sick and- OH! MY! CHAOS! SHADOW IS THAT YOU?! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN YEARS!

      Both hedgehogs whipped their heads around finally to see the ecstatic pink hedgehog running up to them, despite wearing heels that definitely didn’t seem like they were appropriate for running. Sonic knew that Amy somehow knew Shadow, but it still felt weird hearing the other’s name called like that. He hardly knew the friend who invited Shadow, let alone whether or not Amy and Shadow were considered ‘friends’ in any way beyond that.

      When she finally made it over to them, she smiled at Sonic brightly, before regarding Shadow with her full attention. That, once again, felt way too awkward. Normally when Sonic was in the room, everything was focused on him, even when Blaze was present. Yeah, no, this wasn’t anywhere near normal, not for Amy and not at all for him. He was glad not to be at the brunt of her questioning as to why he was able to actually make it, but he felt beyond unsettled by this.

                  “Ms Rose, or should I say, Mrs Rose.”

      The humor of Shadow’s statement was unexpected, just as Amy’s softening expression was. As though she was used to such a playful attitude from an otherwise brooding hedgehog. Sonic watched as Shadow offered a hand to her, which she graciously accepted. He brought her hand up to his lips, and Sonic watched in further horror as he pressed a gentle kiss to the ring placed on her finger. 

      The shock that trembled through his system was enough to make him shudder in disgust over the situation. Who in their right mind would want to kiss Amy in any way? Okay, sure, maybe that was an immature and dumb thought to be having at the sort of event they were at, but come on! Normal friends hardly did that... did they? …. Nope! Not normal, Sonic refused to even debate on it further! 

                  “I owe Mrs. Vanilla’s good work in her field, and the offspring she nurtures, the honor to see you happily engaged.”

      Amy laughed in that flustered manner she always seems to get when there was a particularly attractive person regarding her, letting her hand slip away from his once he drops it and stops bowing so politely. Sonic for once in his whole life felt like a stranger in a room full of all his friends. He didn’t dare interject the conversation, standing awkwardly as he looked between the two other hedgehogs present. Was it normal to kiss someone’s engagement ring? Was that, like, common courtesy or what? Was it a mobian-thing, a human-thing, or a Shadow-thing? 

                              “I’m glad you happened to make it! Cream is going to be so happy when she sees you, it’s been a bit since you’ve seen her! She’s grown taller now! Up to my rib, now, that little sweetheart!”

     Shadow hummed, looking around as if trying to spot her. So, Shadow knew Cream too, then? Sonic followed the ruby eyes of his ebony counterpart, trying to spot the little rabbit, himself. Earlier he spotted Vanilla, but not Cream or Cheese. Usually the three of them stuck together like glue, so he found it quite odd, honestly. 

                  “She is turning 8 this year, correct? Her mother told me about being in the 5th grade, now. A prodigee, truly.”

      Sonic tried to regain his footing by speaking up, attempting to be nonchalant about it by putting both arms behind his head. The look he got from Amy told him this wasn’t proper etiquette, but he hardly cared. He finally found a way to slip into the jarring situation that didn’t feel completely off-kilter.

                      “Yeah, that kids real smart. She’s skipping grades just like Tails did at that age.”

      Amy swatted his arms down and he rolled his eyes, pocketing his hands instead. Again, his pants were a bit too tight fitting, so he instead settled for thumbs only. This earned another amused look from Shadow, but Amy seemed to not even notice the way the two hedgehogs were looking each other over as she continued on the conversation.

                            “Of course she is! She wants to be a doctor, after all!”

      Instead of hopping into the conversation like Sonic hoped he would, he watched as Shadow seemingly spaced out at that. He tried to wipe the disappointed frown that fell upon his face, but it couldn’t have been helped, right? It’s not like the ebony hedgehog was here for him. He probably was trying to find Vanilla and Cream, if his wandering eyes had anything to say about it.

      Although, he didn’t start getting that distant look in his eye until the mention of doctors came up, like putting a huge barrier up instantly. Trying to break the tension he felt, as well as whatever nagging Amy was doing towards him, he spoke up.

                     "Where is Cream and Cheese, anyways? I thought they’d be with Vanilla or something, right? I mean, that kids usually so glued to her mama’s hip.”

      This shook the pink hedgehog out of her rambling about proper etiquette, looking around now herself. Shadow seemed to have been shaken from his thoughts too, most likely because Sonic purposefully used a loud voice to ask. 

      Maybe he shouldn’t be such an annoying little shit this early on in the night, but trying to get the brooding hedgehog’s attention was hard, alright? As much as he bragged to Rouge earlier, getting a room’s attention seemed to be a lot easier than getting Shadow’s. It was frustrating, but he supposed he truly did love a good challenge, now didn’t he? 

                            “Last time I saw her, she excused herself to the restroom while talking to Tails about his latest invention. They hadn’t spoken in so long, either, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where she is now.”

      Sonic began walking in the direction of where he last saw Tails, and on his way passing by Shadow he grabbed the ebony hedgehog’s upper arm and began dragging him away. The shocked look on Shadow’s face as well as the way he flustered for the splittest of moments was enough for Sonic, as he weaved through the crowd of people with his new catch in tow.

      Thank Chaos they were away from Amy, now. The blue hedgehog knew it was probably like, gentlemanly or whatever to kiss that ring or something but he honestly didn’t like sitting there being a third party to his own friend’s conversation. That’s the reason he felt queasy, right? Right. Couldn’t have to do with anything else, definitely not the desire to be the center of attention for Shadow despite this being Amy’s party. That would be so incredibly selfish of him, and he wasn’t selfish, right? 

                  “Where are you taking me?”

      Sonic stopped once they reached out of the crowd, looking to see Tails and waving, dragging Shadow all the same. Surprisingly, he met minimal resistance from the hedgehog he was pulling on, despite knowing the other could probably easily pull out of his grip. The feeling underneath his hand of biceps, despite a suit jacket being in the way, sent shivers down his spine at the thought. Strength like that was a challenge in itself, and it sparked more than competitive feelings into him.

                      “Hey Tails! Buddy ol’ pal , you seen the Cream-Cheese duo?”

      The front bangs that were once slicked back on the fox’s head with the rest of his fur began sticking out again, just as they always tended to do even with constant grooming. Always getting so worked up over an invention of his can somehow knock all sorts of things out of place on the younger kit, and it honestly gave him the look of a mad genius at times. Tails looked up from the device he was tinkering with, a few nails in between his teeth as he spoke. 

            “Yeah, she just went to go get us some refreshments. What’s up-”

      The yellow fox paused when he saw who Sonic was gripping onto, the same stoic face of irritation that he saw at Sonic’s graduation party. The nails in his mouth dropped on his lap and he gulped, looking at Sonic apprehensively.

             “So uh, who’s your new friend?” 

      Sonic hummed, sounding confused for a split second before brightening up and releasing Shadow’s arm, gesturing dramatically with both hands towards his edgy counterpart.

                      “Oh THIS? Just the lamest hedgehog at this party. The coolest title goes to me, obviously.”

      The ebony hedgehog regarded Sonic with the boredest look imaginable, and Tails felt safe to finally turn his attention back on the small box in front of him. He kept regarding Shadow with glances now and then, but didn’t bother to mention that he already knew the other. At least, he knew him briefly. 

      A solo cup of punch isn’t that much of a crime, and even though Sonic liked to make friends with the craziest of people he trusted his older brother to keep him safe if this one ended up being another bust.

            “Well, lame or not, I’m glad you finally managed to find a date. I was afraid you weren’t going to show up for fear of looking uncool or something.”

      This froze both hedgehogs from the playful looks they were giving one another, and Sonic was the first to break his straight face. He sputtered and waved his hands obnoxiously before speaking way too loud for Shadow’s comfort.

                     “Whoa whoa whoa whoa! Tails that’s not- I’m not-!!!!”

      The fox threw him a skeptical look, before looking over to Shadow, who immediately avoided eye contact. The way the ebony hedgehog held himself, as well as the way Sonic was defending himself so violently? Yeah, he can’t be fooled.

           “Look, if you don’t want to talk about it in public that’s fine, I know you’re not fully out yet and all, but-”

      Sonic slammed his hand down on the table next to Tails’ invention, which startled both the fox and other hedgehog. 

                     “He’s just a friend! Besides, apparently a friend of Amy’s invited him or something.”

      As if on cue, a tiny gasp could be heard from several feet away, despite the room being loud with party guests. They all turned to see a small rabbit, holding a tray of drinks with shaky hands. She nearly dropped them to the floor, but Shadow moved quickly to catch the tray and contents with scary accuracy.

      With the skills of a waiter, he slipped the tray onto the table carefully, and then turned his attention back to the trembling girl. Sonic could hardly catch up with the scene that began playing before him so quickly.

                            “M-Mr. Shadow!” 

      The young girl sprung up from her short height to latch her arms around the hedgehog’s torso, rubbing her face into his chest, as if trying to nuzzle the comforting chest scruff underneath through the fabric of his clothes. A tiny soft smile formed on the hedgehog’s face, as he patted her head and set her down back on two feet. 

      Once crouched onto her level, he watched with fondness as she began wiping her eyes viciously as if to show she wasn’t crying and that she was tough.

                  “Hello, Ms. Cream. Thank you for inviting me, it’s been too long.”

      Sonic and Tails both exchanged bewildered looks, their eyes comedically wide. Shadow and Cream completely ignored them, however.

                           “It’s no problem, Mr. Shadow! Mama said you’re all better now and could make it, so I knew you’d come! You never break a promise, so I knew you’d be here!”

      The words she spoke made his smile falter a bit, but after taking a deep breath he simply nodded and ruffled her hair again, standing. He pulled out a chair for her, gesturing a hand to have her sit. She didn’t miss a beat, climbing up onto the chair.

      Shadow sat next to her, and Sonic found himself sitting next to Tails across from them. The young fox inventor wasn’t even touching his invention now, too invested in what he was witnessing with his own two eyes.

                    “So, I’ve been told your scores in school are fairly high. You’ve been working hard, no?”

      Cream nodded, looking up at the ebony hedgehog with the brightest smile Shadow has ever seen. It seems she was doing well mentally today, then. Shadow took note of this for future references.

                           “Mama says if I do really really well, I might be able to catch up to big brother Miles in no time!”

      Tails chuckled shyly, rubbing the back of his neck.

            “To be honest, when it comes down to it, you’re probably more resourceful than me, already. I just like tinkering, mostly!”

      Shadow watched closely as Sonic playfully punched Tails’ shoulder, scolding him about modesty. He quickly put two and two together that Tails was Cream’s friend, and that all these years when Cream talked about Miles he was talking to him.

                      “Thank you for helping her study, Prower.”

      Tails and Sonic both snapped out of their sibling bickering to look with wide eyes, again, at Shadow’s gratitude. However, the hedgehog’s attention was already back on the young girl.

             “It’s, erm… no problem?”

      Cream sat up fully, grabbing the decorative tea pot after setting four cups down for all of them. She began carefully pouring each of them a cup of tea, before setting down the pot once more.

                          “Be careful not to burn yourself, Mr. Shadow. Mama asked the lovely kitchen staff to make it extra warm, to help soothe.”

      The look in Shadow’s eyes was one Sonic didn’t dare to miss. The look of appreciation as well as downright affection. It was so caring, so gentle. Something he never thought he’d see on the hedgehog’s face in the short month he’s gotten to know him. For the first time, he realized no, he didn’t crack the full mystery of Shadow. He was just beginning to learn the outer details of everything the ebony hedgehog had to offer.

                       “Your mother is very kind. Thank you, Ms. Cream.”

      The rabbit beamed at him, and as Shadow finally took a sip of his tea, Tails finally broke Sonic out of his trance by speaking up.

            "So, you both know each other, then?”

      Cream looked over at Tails and nodded.

                             “When mama has her issues, Mr. Shadow comes to visit. Sometimes when her and my dads have to leave to go to an appointment, he’ll come play tea parties with me and Cheese!” 

      Tails furrowed his eye ridges, knowing from what Vector has told him that Cream didn’t know how severe her mother’s ‘issues’ really were. It wasn’t that they were keeping it from her, it was more so the fact she was in denial about how well her mother has been doing. From how cheerily she was talking about her mother’s appointments, this only further confirmed it.

      Beside him, the fox kit could feel a similar conflicted air radiating off of Sonic. None of this really explained how Cream knew Shadow, but any and all questions between the two now nervous brothers seemed to die down. Tails pretended to sip at his tea to stall his response, when a voice in the speakers set up around the restaurant sounded, bringing everyone’s conversations to a close.

            “Hello, thank you all for coming today! I’m glad you all have been able to make it, it means a lot to me and Mrs. Rose.”

      Everyone’s attention turned to Blaze, who began her lovely speech about how lucky she was to have met Amy. Sonic, however, kept glancing at the ebony hedgehog. Why did Shadow come to visit Vanilla so frequently in her sickness? Why did he babysit Cream so often, when one of her dads could’ve just stayed home? Sure, one of them had a rocky business that he constantly worked, and the other was working all sorts of shady jobs to just make ends meet, but....?

      Sonic knew Shadow knew he was staring at him, considering the fact that the blue hedgehog was seated directly in front of Shadow’s view. Yet those red irises didn’t even both to look at him until the later half of Blaze’s speech. When their eyes met, Sonic’s confusion and frustration momentarily melted away into a whole different emotion.

      Goddamnit, his eyes are like fucking embers. He could get lost in them, and he was fully aware he was currently in the process of doing it. He wasn’t sure if Shadow wasn’t saying anything because of politeness of the speech going on, or if he didn’t know how to respond or what to say, or the fact that he too was getting lost in all of this.

      What was this, anyways? Taking a deep breath, he blinked a few times, realizing they had been staring for too long, before twisting his upper body to look at Blaze finally. Her words were barely registering, though, when he felt a familiar ankle brushing against his. 

      Part of him wondered if Shadow was planning on tripping him again, or if his suspicion on that being an innocent mistake was right. When he felt another brush against his other ankle, he realized that yeah, yeah it was an innocent mistake before. The feeling of their ankles pressing together through their pants was far too gentle to be mischievous in intent. 

      It felt funny, how the ebony hedgehog could say he was childish, when the other was essentially tapping his ankles against his in some more mature way of playing footsies. Sonic couldn’t help but snicker, only stopping when Tails threw him a dirty look for it. It wasn’t his fault that his mind was going places with both of Shadow’s ankles essentially being a barrier to closing his legs. Sure, he doubted that was the intention, but his mind was jumping the gun regardless of what the other meant by it. 

      He smiled sheepishly, before readjusting himself to face Shadow again. His upper body didn’t feel comfortable twisting at that angle, anyways. While he could look at Blaze and appreciate her wondrous speech visually, he knew if she knew the context of the situation, she’d agree that listening was good enough.

            “I promised myself that I would crack the mystery behind those gentle green eyes, those soft quills and warm smiles. Amy Rose had stolen my heart then, and she didn’t even know it.”

      Sonic watched as Shadow inhaled deeply, adjusting himself to lean forward some more. He tried to play it off as putting his chin in his hand, but Sonic knew better as he felt the hedgehog’s knee bump against his. For once in his life, he was glad this restaurant had such inadequate, thin tables. Something about sleek being fancy? It didn’t matter, when it meant being able to casually touch Shadow like this. 

            “With her help and guidance, I was able to open myself up to newer emotions and sensations I didn’t know were even possible to feel. It was like she could make me feel anything in the world, and somehow she chose to make me feel all of them , all at once.”

      There was no hesitation as the blue hedgehog wrapped his calf around the other’s. This was the closest they’ve ever been, but yet it wasn’t close enough. He could feel goosebumps nipping at his arms, his quills on end. Yet Shadow wasn’t even looking at him anymore, simply watching as Blaze went on about her speech. Nothing on the ebony hedgehog’s face even suggested being flustered or distracted by Sonic’s limbs.

            “When I took her hand in mine, I finally felt whole. I finally felt the world making sense. I knew, with all the flames and passion in my heart, that any pain was worth knowing her. That in those sweet malachite eyes, I could drown happily. So far, she has made that pain almost nonexistent, the simple presence of her company lifting any sorrows I could ever succumb to, and instead of drowning, I’ve been afloat.”

      Sonic felt himself glancing at the hand that wasn’t holding Shadow’s chin up. The one that twitched at Blaze’s words on the table between them. Yet the ebony hedgehog made no moves nor did he even look affected. There was so much warmth spreading up and down his body and yet every part that Shadow wasn’t touching felt freezing cold.

      Would anyone even notice if Sonic reached out and held his hand? Would that make Shadow too nervous? Would he go back to ignoring him like he had been doing once this whole entire dinner was over? He hadn’t even realized he was tapping his foot anxiously until he felt Shadow’s pressing it down, forcing it to stop. It didn’t hurt, more so a gentle reminder, so Sonic looked over at the other with a nervous grin.

      All he was met with were those ruby irises looking at him like he was the one full of mystery. What was there to wonder about? Sonic wasn’t exactly an open book, sure, but he wasn’t a closed one either. Shadow, on the other hand, seemed to be so tightly pressed closed with several locks covering it, a ton of weight pressing the cover shut. He wanted to pry it open so, so badly.

            “I knew I wanted to know everything about her the moment I met her.”

      That’s right, Sonic wants to know every little detail he can get, no matter the emotion he's feeling. From the way he tied his shoes all the way up to whatever nitty gritty backstory he can get his hands on. He doesn't care where Shadow's been, he just wants to know all of him. It was itching at his skin, like a hunger he couldn’t satisfy. When Shadow glanced back at him again, as though he was keeping tabs on Sonic while listening intently to Blaze, he took his chance to slip his fingers into Shadow’s.

      When the hedgehog glanced down at their hands with a frozen expression on his face, Sonic thought he fucked up, royally so. That this would be it, he jumped the gun too fast and now he’s bound to be practically faker zoned forever. However, those ruby irises looked up and all he saw there was brief confusion, before he felt his hand being squeezed back gently.

      Every part of his body, especially his chest, felt engulfed in suffocating flames at the small gesture. Never in his life did he think he’d be near trembling from how someone held his hand. Yet Shadow once again wasn’t even looking at him, instead keeping his attention back on Blaze. It set feelings inside of him off he didn’t know he was even feeling. It wasn’t fair, his full attention was on Shadow’s face and body, but the other was hardly glancing at him much anymore.

      It was like when he kissed Amy’s hand. It was like when he looked at Cream with such a gentle expression. It was unsettling, and he didn’t want any of it to go away even with how much they clawed at his fur. Those feelings, whatever they were, he wanted to feel more of it. For once in his life, he didn’t feel like running away. With determination, he squeezed Shadow’s hand back, looking at Blaze as she spoke.

      The adoration in her eyes, the way she walked like she knew exactly what she wanted. For some reason, that in itself only made the flames of determination burn brighter and stronger. There was no way in hell Sonic was going to let Shadow get away now, not after this, not after what he’s feeling right now. Not when he was gripping onto his hand and calves like they were the only things keeping him afloat amongst an ocean of whatever the fuck was going on between the two of them.

      Sonic swore he’d keep hold of this, for as long as he possibly could, and when he set his mind towards something? It’s set for good. The speech ended with a wonderfully passionate kiss, and Sonic lifted his free hand up to do a “WHOOP WHOOP!” Even though it wasn’t hardly etiquette at all, everyone began to chant and holler along with the blue hedgehog. Once Sonic made noise in a room, everyone always followed no matter the occasion, honestly.

      For the first time tonight, he felt like he belonged in this stuffy lame atmosphere. When he turned back to look at Shadow, his smile fell instantly when he noticed ruby irises staring holes into him. He wasn’t smiling, but something in his eyes held an amusement, or perhaps it was affection, and it caused Sonic to squirm on the spot.

                        “Hey, uh…”

      Shadow lifted an eye ridge at Sonic’s hesitation, not moving his hand away even when Tails and Cream stopped mid celebration in the loud room to glance over and see it. Sonic pretended not to notice the smug look his brother was giving him, and Cream seemed too polite to break the moment between the two hedgehogs. Especially since the room had yet to die down from their commotion.

                        “Do you… Want to hang out some more after this? Like... tonight? Maybe... go for a walk or something?”

      The ebony hedgehog looked off put by this, but his hand still didn’t move. Shaking his head, he sighed, and Sonic felt all the hope in his chest plummet to his gut like a rock.

                  “I have some coursework due, and Rouge needs a ride home.”

      Trying to cover up his disappointment, he forced a smile on his face and squeezed Shadow’s hand again. This seemed to bring the other hedgehog’s attention back to Sonic.

                         “No problem! Just don’t be such a stranger all the time, got it, royal gloom?”

      Shadow huffed a sigh through his nose and shook his head, finally slipping his hand away. The ebony hedgehog rolled his eyes, crossing his arms over himself and pretending to look less flustered. Conversations began dying around them, so Sonic hardly thought he’d get a reply. 

      Especially when he saw a rather drunk and disgruntled bat sauntering their way. Turns out, no. His friends couldn’t get their act together tonight. It further plummeted his good mood that Knuckles and Rouge had clearly been fighting again, but he didn’t dare let it show on his face.

                    “If you’re referring to me leaving you on read, I suppose I could be more lenient with my replies... Don’t think that makes us friends, though, faker.

      Before Sonic could reply, he watched Shadow stand up and ruffle Cream’s hair fluff, walking away towards the bat he could hear slurring her words from across the room. Obviously, it was time to go home, and Sonic couldn’t help but think it was a shame that Shadow came here with someone. Maybe if he was alone, they could have gotten to know each other more.

      The best part of the night was beginning, as people paired up to dance, and Tails offered Cream a dance to get her mind off the now retreating hedgehog. Sonic, however, had no one to dance with to get his mind off of Shadow. 

      They could be dancing together, but instead, he watched as Shadow helped his sister out through the door with that caring look in his eyes he had regarded Cream with. Suddenly, a knot felt tight in Sonic’s throat, as he wondered if that’s what family was like. 

      Sure, Tails was his brother, but he didn't feel nearly as close to Tails as those ruby irises looked towards his family. Feeling selfish at his train of thought, he took a deep breath, closing his eyes now that he was sitting all alone. He couldn’t think like that, he had plenty of friends and family. Everyone he met was his family, right? That’s the type of guy he was, after all. 

      A hand placed itself on his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to see a pink hedgehog. It wasn’t the pink hedgehog he wanted to see, though. Again, he felt selfish for even thinking like that, frown deepening for a split second. It was just Amy, looking at him with worried eyes. Sonic put on his best good guy smile finally, and grabbed her hand, pressing a kiss to her ring finger.

                        “This is proper etiquette or somethin, right?”

      The newly engaged hedgehog sputtered for a moment before yanking her hand away, which only caused Sonic to cackle. She quickly joined him in laughter, thankfully finding the humor in his stupidity, and pulled him to his feet to dance with her. As the two of them swayed, Sonic tried not to think about Shadow. 

      Once again, he was faker zoned , and he couldn’t help but feel dejected and disappointed, but those malachite eyes regarding him was uplifting. Like he could feel her eyes regarding him again, with care and kindness. Sonic tried to banish those thoughts from his mind by twirling his friend, watching her gown flutter magnificently around her.

                         “I’m glad you finally found someone, Amy. You truly deserve all of this, you know?”

      The pink hedgehog closed her eyes once she was righted again, resting her head on Sonic’s shoulder. From across the room, he could see his echidna friend looking rather depressed and melancholic. All in a matter of moments, he realized he felt just like that. He felt depressed and melancholic, and there really was only one way to prevent it. Swallowing down his fears, he looked at the bride to be in his arms, smirking.

            “So do you, Sonic. We all do. No one deserves to feel alone, you know that.”

      Taking a deep breath, Sonic barked out a laugh that caught the whole room’s attention. He was being so stupid, but he didn’t care if people saw him realizing that. That he realized how ridiculous he has been! Absolutely ridiculous! Who did he think he was, someone who tried again later? No. He was a hedgehog who jumped in without thinking twice. 

      He laughed loudly once again, causing Amy to regard him with a worried yet scolding expression. He was going to attract attention, anyways, as he always did. The blue hedgehog always did, and it was only further done as he swiftly twirled himself around across the room to dip Amy into Knuckle’s unsuspecting arms.

                          “Hey Knux, I’ve got someone to catch, hold this for me? I feel like you could use her motivational speeches FAR more than me right now, anyways, hahah.”

      Amy sputtered again, before looking enraged. However, before she could even push herself up off of Knuckles, the hedgehog ran swiftly out the door fast enough to see an ebony hedgehog about to take off. He screamed bloody mercy, startling both Rouge and Shadow, who turned to him with bewildered eyes.

      As Sonic scrambled up to meet up with them both, he smiled a wide, sunshine-filled smile. It felt selfish, it felt impulsive, and it felt completely inappropriate, but he leaned over and squeezed Shadow into the strongest embrace he could. Before the ebony hedgehog had a chance to respond, Sonic pulled away, looking slyly at the flustered male as he backed up several paces.

                             “I’m going to get to know you, Shadow the Hedgehog. So get ready for me, faker. I’ll make you my friend, whether you like it or not!” 

      Shadow looked at Sonic like he was talking to a crazy mad men, as the drunk bat behind him cackled and wheezed into the back of his shoulder. He could feel her drooling on his suit jacket, and it only further made him cringe. However, no amount of appalled expression caused Sonic’s stance to falter, so the ebony hedgehog just huffed. 

      A red dust of color was now painting his muzzle despite his seemingly disgusted expressions, as he revved up his engine and got situated to take off again.

                  “Good fucking luck with that, I suppose. Just know you’ll regret it.”

      Without even sparing Sonic another glance, Shadow was off down the street, and he could vaguely hear Rouge howling with laughter and saying some half-intelligent innuendo. Most likely about the situation between the two hedgehogs. With a flame still ignited in his chest, he watched until they were finally out of sight again. Now, it was time to high tail it. 

      That’s enough ridiculous hijinks for one night, honestly, even for him. Amy wouldn’t mind if he put off that dance until her actual wedding, right? 

      Right.

Chapter Text

      Deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. It was better this way, if he tried to center himself. Concentrate on how the bed sheet felt under his hands, or tense his legs and untense them. Shadow would ask for help in grounding from Rouge, but she’s been having a rough day. Work didn’t treat her nicely, and she asked to be alone for a while.

      Shadow could respect that. Boundaries are important, and she’s been respecting his boundaries lately so it’s only fair he respects her’s. However, he couldn’t help but scold himself for using her as such a crutch to get through all of this. Grounding was much more difficult without other people, but he knew he could do it. It was his problem that he got used to other people doing most of the work for him, especially when he should be used to not relying on others by now. Even though his therapist would scold him for such self criticizing behaviors.

      As if by some cosmic chance, he heard his phone beside him buzzing. He closed his eyes and listened to it vibrate closer and closer to his head. Shadow snatched it and quickly accepted the call just as he was sure the last ring was about to begin, gritting out.

            “ Hello ?”

      There was silence on the other line for a good minute, maybe a minute and a half. Just as he was about to pull it away from his ear to see who had actually called him, he heard the other finally speak up.

                   “Hey! Hey uh, what’s up, Shads?” 

      Eye ridges furrowed, and it was Shadow’s turn to fall silent. He wasn’t sure why the blue hedgehog was calling him or why, but he had no idea how to respond to it. As he looked down at his own body language, though, he realized he wasn’t fighting to ground himself as much anymore.

             “Hedgehog.”

      It was all the ebony hedgehog was going to reply with, not sure how else to continue with the conversation. He honestly forgot what Sonic had said, just knowing that his voice was keeping him together instead of his head in the clouds. He wanted to hear more of it, and he closed his eyes as he could faintly hear the other’s breath on the receiver. 

                   “Oh well uh, if you’re busy, I can call back?”

      A huff escaped him, and he shook his head. But then he remembered Sonic couldn’t see that, so he willed himself to give a more definite answer this time.

            “I am not busy.”

      Silence fell between the two of them again, and when Shadow realized the other wasn’t going to supply his own explanation, he tried to rake his mind for something to say. Should he engage in small talk? His therapist has helped him recently in finding conversation starters, maybe he should use one of those?

            “What are you doing currently, exactly?” 

      Shadow reevaluated his choice of words and cursed himself for it. He hoped his flat tone was enough to indicate he was not trying to say that suggestively. However, it seemingly snapped Sonic from whatever daze he was in, though his voice still seemed to sound odd.

                  “I was wondering if you could like, do me a big favor?”

      The ebony hedgehog checked himself over again. Wiggled his toes, tensed his legs, arms, fingers. When his ears twitched and everything seemed to feel fully real, he sighed. He supposed he was in working order to do favors, but he was nervous as to what the other might suggest.

            “The likelihood of complying is slim, but say it regardless, faker.”

      The chuckle Sonic gave him sounded lighthearted and relieved, so apparently that was the right response. He was grateful that it was, because Shadow didn’t think he could come up with a different answer even if he tried. 

                   “Well, my friend kind of ditched me cause his grandmother fell again, and I need a ride somewhere. Kinda stranded, and I mean, I could just run but my friend was supposed to be helping me with something and I don’t know if I can really do all of it by myself so-”

      Shadow sighed, getting up from the bed to change while he listened to the blue hedgehog ramble like he was bouncing off the walls. He could almost see the animated way Sonic’s hands always moved, the erratic pacing back and forth. As much as he wanted to decline, he felt drawn to helping the other out. 

      Was it gratitude that Sonic had unintentionally helped him through his own episode of panic just now, or was it because he genuinely wanted to help Sonic, or was it because he felt obliged? Another voice in his head tried to suggest that he genuinely wanted to hang out with the other hedgehog, but that voice was his sister’s, and he’d rather not listen to the devil herself right now. 

            “Where are you?”

      Sonic stopped whatever tirade of words he had been just speaking, and Shadow could hear the way he inhaled. It sounded relieved but evening. 

                  “I’m over by the Krinkle Hut, you know that really rundown food delivery place that got busted once for hiding cocaine in the back freezers? Man, I don’t know how they managed to keep the business going after that lawsuit and fine. New management and everything. The hotdogs taste okay, though. Much better than when they were made by drug dealers.”

      Shadow hummed at that, closing his eyes to try and figure out where that was. The map in his mind told him it was close to the college, maybe 15 or so minutes away, further in the city and around the bad part of town. Worry began to settle in his mind, but he wasn’t sure why he was so worried. Sonic could handle himself, right?

            “Are you…. Safe?”

      At that, silence fell between the two for a few short seconds, before a soft appreciative laugh resonated through the receiver. At the laughter, Shadow felt stupid for even asking. Of course he was okay, otherwise he wouldn’t be speaking.

                  “I’m good, don’t worry! Tougher than I look, trust me. Just hurry up, it’s freezing out here and I promised to be there around noon. Man, I’m so glad you’re free, I was beginning to worry that I was on my own on this one.”

      The ebony hedgehog rummaged through his drawers, pulling out an extra sweater to throw around his shoulders. He hopped onto his motorcycle, huffing as he turned it on, the roar of the engine a familiar and comforting thing as the huge garage doors began lifting to the remote he kept on his keychain.

            “Don’t complain about speed when asking for favors, faker. I’ll be there in 20 minutes or less.”

      Before Sonic could retort how getting there that fast is highly unlikely, Shadow hangs up and pockets his phone in the leather jacket above his own sweater. He was planning on leaving the house to go grocery shopping for hours now, he just couldn’t will himself to leave. Very few things were worth leaving, and Sonic was no different, yet...

      Finally finding an excuse, he revs up his engine and takes off. The dirt of the backroads kicking up and spurring him on. Faster, faster. The wind whipped in his quills and he felt compelled to close his eyes, but kept them open primarily for safety purposes. 

      The moment he reached the city line, he rode along it instead, waiting until he found the specific part of the city he knew he could take a short cut through. Construction sites opened up and he whipped his bike handles to the left, narrowly dodging a crane and flying off a ramp. Several feet in the air, the hedgehog closed his eyes finally.

      It felt like he was being suspended in the air, and he wondered if this was what it felt like to fly. He only wished he brought Rouge along with him, knowing she would have outstretched her wings, taking in as much air as she could. His eyes snapped open at that, scowling as he narrowly avoided a crash landing, his bike tires slamming into the concrete, managing to brake before he crashed into the Krinkle Hut. Once the steam of his vehicle diminished, he took his bike helmet off to shake his on-end quills loose. 

       Opening his eyes, he made eye contact with wide, shocked emerald eyes.

                  “Holy shi- I mean, holy crap .”

      Shadow lifted an eye ridge at that, wondering why Sonic felt the need to censor himself. He casually handed his helmet to Sonic, who hesitantly took it. 

            “I forgot to bring a second one, it would be wise to wear that.” 

      The blue hedgehog smirked, but did as he was told, putting the helmet on as Shadow undid the sweater around his neck. Before Sonic could sit down behind him, he shoved the sweater into the hedgehog’s arms. Blinking several times, he tilted his head in confusion at the ebony hedgehog.

             “You said you were cold, and you’re only wearing a light hoodie. Wear it before I take it back.”

      The smug look on Sonic’s face only grew at this, as he shrugged the sweater on without complaint. It was a bit big on him in the shoulders and arms department, but fit a tad too snuggly around his hips. The result had Shadow trying not to stare, swallowing as he looked forward while the other readjusted the sweater. Reds were definitely Sonic’s color, and the dull worn down ruby wine look of that one didn’t do it any less justice.

             “So, where are you looking to go?”

      Sonic hummed, sitting behind Shadow, putting his hands on his shoulders. Shadow frowned at that, taking his hands off the steering to move his hands down to his torso. Sonic stiffened at that, but Shadow rolled his eyes.

             “If you hold on half-assed, you’re going to fall off. A helmet won’t help you if you hit the pavement at over 140 MPH.”

      The hedgehog behind him sputtered for a moment, before breathlessly exclaiming.

                   “You’re- You’re exaggerating , right? Not to be like, a stick in the mud, but you do know that’s extremely illegal right?”

      All Shadow replied with was a ‘hmph’ at first, revving the engine up again while holding the brake. The steam on his tires kicked up, as well as the asphalt around them.

            “Can’t be any more illegal than driving without a license. Do you not recall the words I told your brute of a friend? Now, where are we going?”

      Sonic's uneven excited breath against his neck and quills, right above the collar of his clothes, sent goosebumps down his arms. Shadow wished he could blame it on the cold, but his jacket stopped the chill from even hitting him.

                  “The college dormitories, bad boy . Think you can get us there in under 5? Runnin’ a bit late as is...”

      The challenge in Sonic’s voice was laced with something else, a tone that had Shadow shuddering. He debated his options, but the option of indulging the challenge immediately won over any other. 

              “Hold on tight, I won’t go back for you if you fall off.”

      These were the only words Shadow uttered, and the other immediately gripped onto him with both arms and legs like a body pillow. The ebony hedgehog finally let go of the brake he had been holding, his motorcycle flying several miles down the road in the blink of an eye and a whole ton of smoke. 

      He expected screaming, he expected to have the life being squeezed out of him, he expected shocked silence. What he didn’t expect was to hear ungodly cackling, full body shaking of adrenaline and delight, as well as Sonic’s ankles casually overlapping one another directly in front of his hips and between his legs.

      The laughter died down a bit, but the amusement was heavy on the other’s breath, and he could hear it even with the wind whipping at his ears so violently. Shadow was used to Rouge leaning her head on his quills, but what he wasn’t used to is the way Sonic affectionately nuzzled his chin onto his shoulder. 

      The urge to glance at Sonic was too tempting, and when ruby irises looked at him, emerald eyes were already fondly drinking him in. Shadow snapped his eyes back on the road just in time to take the right turn he needed to, cutting through an alley and scaring the shit out of a shopkeeper trying to throw away leftovers. 

      Sonic couldn’t even yell out a sorry, they were turning out of the alley so fast. So instead he began cackling again, his chest brushing against Shadow’s back quills with every full belly snort that wracked through him. Between those snorts were the dumbest, most child-like ‘hee hee hee’ sounds the ebony hedgehog has ever heard. Like a kid who was doing something bad, and loving every single bit of it all the same despite the consequences. 

      Shadow hated it. He hated how beautiful it was, how he wanted to make Sonic laugh harder and hear him snort more. He could imagine the crinkle of his nose as he barked out in nasally toned hysterics. Gripping the controls a bit tighter, he saw an opportunity to really make or break the hedgehog.

      The familiar speed bumps that surrounded the college portion of the town propelled them into the air, and they flew. Like, really honestly flew, just as Shadow had done earlier. Yet, instead of laughter, he heard Sonic gasp, before leaning forward and more into him. It wasn’t a fearful response, he could tell by how loose his arms seemed around him, but that only concerned Shadow more.

                  “Is the sky always this beautiful up close?”

      Shadow nodded, trying to focus on the landing instead of his racing thoughts. Shouldn’t he be more scared? Laugh in hysterics? Why was he so seemingly calm in the face of danger like this? They were literally mid-air, the clouds looked as though they were closer than the ground. Just before they landed, Shadow leaned his weight backwards into Sonic, pulling the handles upward so that they’d land successfully on the larger back wheel. 

      The moment they landed, he braked and drifted, the rubber burning hard. He was thankful Sonic took the hint and clutched tightly to him again, as he quickly recovered the stability of the vehicle and turned down the road towards the dormitory. He only slowed a fraction as he got to the main dorm’s parking lot, pinpointing exactly where he wished to park. 

      Narrowly yet expertly dodging a person, he skidded to a halt a few parking spaces beside them, effectively slamming on the brakes fast enough to avoid ramming into the car in the space before them. Sonic’s breath hitched, before he began cackling again, throwing his head back.

            “Was that 5?”

      This shook Sonic from his laughter, as the blue hedgehog clutched at his own sides. He looked at the ebony hedgehog who was glaring back at him with determination, and it took several seconds to catch up with reality. 

                   “Oh, you wanted me to actually time it?”

      Shadow looked like he was going to break Sonic’s nose again, but this time on purpose, which only made the blue hedgehog snort and shake his head.

                   “Dude, that was amazing . I’m going to have to beg you for rides more often!”

      Before the smarter part of Shadow’s brain could stop him, the honest truth was flying out of his mouth. There was no way he could save himself from his own mindless antics, and the ebony hedgehog felt embarrassed at his own words.

              “As much as I enjoy your desperation, you don’t need to beg to catch a lift.”

      The laughter in Sonic’s body and eyes died at that, as he began sputtering. His face took on an attractive red tone, but he quickly recovered otherwise. He hopped off from behind Shadow, nonchalantly putting his arms behind his head. Shadow couldn’t stop himself from drinking in the fidgeting Sonic did on the spot, all the while trying to let his smugness make up for the fact he was pretty much strawberry-faced.

                    “Sounds good to me! Don’t worry, though. There’s other ways to get me desperate other than not having money for an uber.”

      The blue hedgehog winked before turning to begin walking, not even giving Shadow enough time to retort. The ebony hedgehog rushed off his motorcycle, locking it behind him before taking long strides to catch up. Sonic hummed at that, throwing his companion a sly look.

                    “With how long those legs of yours are, you’d think you’d walk a bit faster . What, your speed only limited to an engine ?” 

      Shadow took the bait and fucking devoured it, his eye ridges furrowing with the narrow of his eyes. 

              “What room number?”

      Sonic huffed, shaking his head as if he was disappointed with how easy that was. His eyes, however, spoke a whole other story.

                    “Fourth floor, 427.”

      Shadow didn’t even wait for any further instructions, taking off as fast as his military issued boots could take him. He could hear vague shouting of how unfair that was, but he didn’t care as he dipped into an open window instead of bothering to open the front doors. A guy screamed, but he ignored them as he shoved through his door and up the staircase closest to him. 

      He climbed them with speedy efficiency, swinging his body around with the railing at the top to turn in one swift motion. When he burst through the doors, he noticed Sonic passing him. Blinking the confusion off quickly, he pushed himself off the wall to catch up, the sound of his boots thudding loudly against the dorm floors while Sonic’s sounded like small tapping. He was wearing sneakers made for efficient running rather than Shadow’s terrain-control boots, afterall. 

                   “Pretty heavy steps there, huh Shads? What’s the matter, not light enough on your feet?”

      The taunt dug into his nerves, so he scanned their surroundings. He watched as Sonic began to run backwards, trying to show off to bother him some more. Just as they rounded a corner, however, a woman’s door opened and Sonic slammed right into it.

              “For someone so light on their feet, you sure aren’t reflexive.” 

      Sonic blubbered at that, quickly recovering. By the time he began closing the distance between the two hedgehogs, Shadow ripped open the door to race up the next flight of stairs. Before the door could swing closed, the ebony hedgehog heard it slam back open, and the steps behind him now were anything but light. 

              “What’s the matter, faker? Bad with stairs?”

      However when Shadow turned to glance at him, he noticed Sonic hopping on the stairs 4 at a time, and with another fast jump he hopped past the stunned ebony hedgehog. Trying to make up for the fact that Sonic passed him, he backed up several steps before launching himself off the ground face-forward, grabbing a step in the middle of the staircase and fully backflipping up the rest of the way. When his feet met the wall at the corner, he leaned into the impact, using it to propel himself off the wall and towards the door Sonic was pushing through. 

      His body collided into Sonic’s as the blue hedgehog opened the door, and the two of them rolled several feet down the hallway, nearly knocking into a startled mobian. Quickly recovering, Shadow hopped up to his feet and began running again. The thought of how he would have probably broken one of the other hedgehog’s ribs if he did that wrong barely registered in his head, only a breathless afterthought in the heat of the moment. 

                 “HEY! Body slamming is CHEATING, FAKER !”

      The ebony hedgehog couldn’t help but bellow out a hardy laugh of confidence at the blue blur’s frustrated tone, grabbing the corner to help round himself so he didn’t slam into the wall when turning. He reached the next staircase just as he heard the familiar footsteps behind him, and he turned to smirk at the blue hedgehog of speed charging straight at him.

            “You sure are stubborn. Too bad being stubborn doesn’t protect you from losing miserably.”

      Sonic tried to shove Shadow out of the way to pass him, but the ebony hedgehog expertly dodged it and jumped several steps ahead. It was the ebony’s hedgehog turn to run backwards, looking at the blue hedgehog jumping several steps and rounding the corner of the stairwell. 

      Just as he reached the door, Shadow elbowed it open and rolled out of it, re-righting himself to be facing forward. This was the third and final floor, and he intended to win this battle. What he didn’t expect was to feel Sonic’s hand clutch his leather jacket, trying to pull him back behind him. 

            “Oh, thought you weren’t one to cheat, faker.

      Scowling, he tried to elbow Sonic off of him, but the blue hedgehog instead leaned up and teasingly blew heated air into his ear. Shadow froze and shuddered violently for a few seconds too long, just enough for the jock to race several feet down the hallway and turn the corner. 

     Desperate to catch up, Shadow quickly turned to the window beside him, unlocking it and slamming it open. He stuck his head out to see the ground 3 stories below, then looking around and noticing a fire escape a few ledge spaces away. He quickly hopped out of the window, grabbing onto the ledge just a few seconds away from falling. 

     Using his upper arms, he swung his dangling legs until he felt confident enough that he’d make it, letting go and falling onto the rusty platform. It creaked dangerously underneath his suddenly dropped weight, but he rushed up the steps and quickly ducked into whoever’s window was open on the 4th floor. He raced through the house, passing two mobians he could barely even see in his rush while knocking a couple of boxes over, and swiftly opened the door just to accidentally slam himself into someone. 

      Frustrated, he grabbed the person’s arm so that they wouldn’t fall, intending to yank them out of the way of him running. What he ended up doing instead was staring into shocked emerald eyes.

                  “You- How did you-” 

      Sonic turned around to gaze into the hall, before turning to look at Shadow. The both of them were panting, but Shadow knew he was more out of breath than Sonic, which was slightly aggravating him despite the realization he won. With a smug smile, he pulled Sonic closer, their noses nearly touching.

              “Fire escape.”

      The blue hedgehog sputtered, before leaning forward more. Shadow knew what was about to happen, but he didn’t want to push Sonic away nor did he want to stop it. Before their lips could close the distance fully, the noise of a throat clearing behind them startled Sonic away.

      Shadow looked behind him to see who had rudely interrupted them, just to see nothing. He looked down finally to notice that someone indeed was there, they were just really short. 

              “Miles.”

      The yellow fox crossed his arms, looking disgruntled at Shadow calling him that.

                          “Look, if you guys are going to race, can you not knock over several of my roommate's belongings?” 

      Sonic laughed so loud and nervously, it made Shadow cringe. The ebony hedgehog let go of his bright counterpart’s arm, crossing his arms and moving out of the way of the door. Sonic casually nudged it closed with his foot, looking sheepishly at his younger brother.

                 “Sorry, sorry. Totes my bad, dude.” 

      He ruffled the fox’s hair, which made Tails fluster and try and bat the hand away. It was obvious he wasn’t that disgruntled, however, when he couldn’t keep the smile from popping up on his face. 

                           “It’s not an issue, it was just a few books. Thankfully nothing too fragile or expensive.”

      Tails turned to look at Shadow now, again. The ebony hedgehog simply turned his head away to look around the room, pretending to be disinterested.

                           “Guessing Knuckles couldn’t make it?”

      Sonic sighed, collapsing onto a sofa nearby, which was surrounded by boxes he nearly tripped over. 

                  “His grandmother is super sick again. Not sure how he handles taking care of several old people all the time, it sounds exhausting.

      Tails just chuckled, shaking his head and picking up a knocked over box. 

                            “Says the one who just ran 4 flights of stairs, and for what? To lose?”

      Shadow noticed the fox struggling with the weight of the box as it was placed onto a table. Sonic hopped up off the couch and began helping, setting knocked over boxes back in place. The tone the speedster’s voice took was sour.

                   “Hey, I wouldn’t have lost if he didn’t cheat so much!”

      The ebony hedgehog rolled his eyes, finally unfolding his arms to grab a few boxes, putting them in the same corner the two of them were setting them in. They lifted things so incredibly slow that it was beginning to grind on his nerves, which was the only reason he felt compelled to help. It had nothing to do with wanting to actually help them, right? Right. 

            “And blowing in my ear isn’t cheating?”

      Sonic scoffed at that, looking at Shadow as if he had just betrayed him. He just rolled his eyes and turned to the young fox.

            “Is there a reason why you are moving into a dormitory for college students?”

      Twin tails flickered excitedly as the fox rubbed the back of his neck, taking on a sheepish expression that reminded him all too much of his older hedgehog brother. The reply, however, wasn’t from either brothers, but from behind the three of them. 

                                 “He skipped another grade, fortunately for me. I don’t like strangers all too much ...”

      The young…. Green haired? Leafed? Girl stood apprehensively several feet away. She was fidgeting with her hands, and if Shadow had to guess, she was maybe a year or two older than the fox kid. 

            “So you’re both studying at a college level?”

      Tails nodded happily, his face brightening as he stood up to stand next to his roommate. Shadow was trying to find out what kind of mobian she was, but the flower buds on her head where ears should be weren’t really helping him decipher.

                        “Yeah! Cosmo just graduated highschool last spring, and I passed the accuplacer just last week. We’ve been planning for months now to go to college together, but we didn’t think it would happen so soon!”

      Sonic smiled, giving them a thumbs up before lightly elbowing Shadow. The ebony hedgehog took the hint and nodded. 

             “Sounds…. Impressive. I am glad Cream has such intelligent friends.”

      Tails faltered at that and Sonic facepalmed. Cosmo lifted an eye ridge, looking between all of them before settling back on Shadow.

                              “I am unsure as to who that is, but I am glad to have impressed the Cream as well.”

      Before Shadow could open his mouth again, Sonic sprung back up to his feet, stretching.

                    “Alright! Have any more boxes you need me to bring up?”

      Cosmo shook her head, before looking at Tails. The young inventor scratched underneath of his nose in a manner that Shadow also usually identifies with Sonic.

                           “Just a few of my inventions. I know I wasn’t allowed to bring a lot of them, but I might have snuck a few in under the guise that they were furniture ...”

      The blue hedgehog sighed, shaking his head. 

                  “Of course you did. No wonder your workshop looked so empty this morning.”

      Sonic turned to go towards the door, motioning Shadow to follow him. As they left, Sonic didn’t bother going towards the stairs, instead pressing the call button for the elevator. Shadow wasn’t going to complain, he was satiated from their earlier race. He had expected the other hedgehog to challenge him to another one in attempts to win this time, but the look on Sonic’s face told him the other had other things on his mind.

            “Your brother seems mature for his age.”

      The hedgehog crumpled his tense expression at that, now instead looking wistful and proud.

                  “Unfortunately. Sometimes I feel like I’m the little brother. Not at all cool, right?”

      The elevator doors opened, and the two of them stepped in it. Shadow watched the hedgehog press the ground floor button, trying to come up with a response.

            “Sometimes intelligence can be a curse. The known universe is a frightening mystery to uncover the clues of, Sonic.”

      The blue hedgehog beside him threw him a look he couldn’t quite recognize. Suddenly, Sonic was leaning into him, their arms pressed together, and his head tilted to look at Shadow as though he was a mystery in itself. He honestly wasn’t sure what the other was trying to solve, there was nothing special about him to uncover here. He also had no idea why Sonic was so obsessed with getting in his personal space all the time, it was rather unnecessary. 

                  “That why you like me so much? Cause I’m carefree and not overthinking a whole ton like you do?”

       Shadow watched as the elevator doors opened on the 3rd floor, and two other mobians piled in. The ebony hedgehog didn’t feel comfortable speaking aloud while the other two were chatting away about the new semester, so he leaned in to whisper in his newfound rival’s ear.

           “Don’t try and act dumber than you actually are, faker. You are not freed from the same weights others are crushed by. You just run too fast to let them cripple you, likely in some false attempt to run from the inevitable repercussions.”

       A shudder wracked through Sonic’s body, and he looked like he was holding his breath. When they reached the 2nd, they both watched the two other mobians leave. When the doors closed, Sonic turned towards Shadow and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, his hands running through his quills in an almost frantic and needy way. The action sent electricity up Shadow’s spine, and his breath came out uneven. 

                   “I guess I’ll just have to figure out why you’re so into me some other time, then.”

      Shadow’s face inched closer to Sonic’s, feeling gravitated towards him, resting his hands on the elevator rail behind the blue hedgehog. It was so easy to just lean in and take what he’s been trying not to take from those lips for a while now. To finish the unanswered moment of competition back in Tails’ doorway.

             “I never stated I was into you, don’t put words into my mouth.”

      A small chuckle escaped Sonic as his finger curled around an out of place quill by Shadow’s ear, before letting his knuckles brush against the soft fur of said ear. He leaned into the wall of the elevator behind him, his eyes daring Shadow to make a move. 

                     “You could put things in my mouth instead, then, if you want.”

      Before he could make a move on the hedgehog wedged between him and the wall, the elevator opened and they both were off of each other so fast that the two mobians looking to board hardly saw what transpired.

      A purple chameleon lifted an eye ridge when his eyes settled on Shadow’s stiff posture.

                            “Fancy seeing you here, Doctor. Mrs. Vanilla told me you didn’t attend public colleges, what do I owe this surprise to?”

      Sonic blinked for a few moments as Vanilla’s two husbands slipped inside of the elevator. The two hedgehogs could leave since this was their floor, but Shadow’s eyes seemed trained on Espio as the elevator doors closed again. The blue hedgehog felt confused as he threw Vector a pleading look for context look, but the crocodile just shrugged his shoulders with a bored smiled. It seemed out of place on the crocodile’s face, and it made Sonic wonder why they were even here, honestly.

            “I was helping a small fox move some boxes.”

      Feeling like groaning at Shadow’s lack of story telling skills, Sonic chipped in to give more details.

                  “Knuckles couldn’t be here today, so I asked Shads to help me move some of the heavier boxes Tails has to his new dorm.”

      Espio nodded his understanding, looking back to Shadow. Vector looked incredibly unsettled, his fists tightening beside him as he failed to regard the group. Sonic couldn’t help but wonder if the normally jolly and loud crocodile was okay, since he’s never been this silent before, especially not in the company of Sonic’s equally as extroverted nature. Espio’s voice snapped the hedgehog out of his thoughts.

                       “While you are here, could I ask to schedule another appointment for Vanilla?”

      The ebony hedgehog tensed, and Sonic once again felt confusion hit him. Was he misunderstanding something here, or was the conclusion he was coming to for real? Like, for real for real?!

            “Text me a time and date, I’ll make sure to make it. Let us not speak of such matters in front of non-familial members, though. Confidentiality is very important to Mrs. Vanilla, and as her doctor I would prefer not to discuss these things without her consent.”

      Espio nodded his head politely, but Vector huffed with uncharacteristic annoyance. Sonic’s brain was racing with all the possibilities, as he watched the two evacuate the elevator once they reached floor 2. Shadow, noticing Sonic’s shocked stupor, leaned over to press the ground floor button again. They rode in relative silence, and when the elevator doors opened again, Sonic just silently followed Shadow. 

           “Where are we picking up the boxes?”

      The blue hedgehog motioned for the ebony one to follow, taking the lead, bringing him to the side of the building where a mover’s truck was conveniently parked and hidden. He checked to make sure it was Tails’ before hopping on up inside of it, watching Shadow board behind him. 

      Sonic’s eyes drank in the way Shadow seemingly picked up a box without effort despite it being taller than the blue hedgehog, resting it on his shoulder. 

                  “So you’re…. A doctor. At this young? I mean I know you’re 21, but isn’t there like… I don’t know isn’t that a lot of years of education or… I mean I knew you were probably on the smarter side and all, but...” 

      Shadow lifted an eye ridge at that, and it didn’t seem like he was going to answer before he nudged a lighter looking box into Sonic’s direction with his foot. Once he dumbly picked the box up was when he got his response.

             “I served as a trainee Combat Medic Specialist, as an overseas educational study scholarship program for families with military backgrounds, serving under the chief emergency surgeon. I was discharged about a year and a half ago.”

      Sonic blinked, filing that information for later. His grin was shit eating when he hopped out of the moving truck to follow Shadow, who has found a trolley that dorm students use for transporting their things. He placed his box down on top of the heavier looking one Shadow had placed on it. They did this for a few more minutes until their trolley was full, and Sonic watched hungrily as Shadow effortlessly pushed it through the dorm doors and towards the elevator.

                  “Does that mean if I ever need medical attention, I can call you?”

      The look he received was exasperated and repulsed, but the noticeable heat rising on Shadow’s face stated a whole other emotion. Sonic bit his lip and tried his best not to break out into laughter, or his other instinct, purring seductively

             “I am not a means to avoid a hospital bill. I am not cheap , hedgehog.”

     Sonic let out a trembling breath as they boarded the elevator, trying not to fidget in place.

                    “I’ve got a bad financial situation, doctor . Insurance isn’t easy to get with my low income… Won’t you give a discount to little ol’ me? I could…. Offer other means of payment, if you’d like.”

     The ebony hedgehog hit the 4th floor button a bit too harshly, sending Sonic a glare before staring with determination at the elevator doors. Sensing he wasn’t going to get much fun out of the other over this subject, Sonic huffed.

                    “Fine, fine. I won’t call you, then. You’re no fun, you know that?”

     Just before the elevator opened onto the 4th floor, Shadow shook his head, glancing at Sonic.

           “Call me whenever you damn please. I can’t stop you, can I? Just don’t expect me to come rushing to save your tail unless it’s life threatening. Although, if you use my title as a means to flirt again, I can and will rip every single one of your quills out of your ignorant fucking head. Being a military doctor is not fun and games, faker.”

     The blue hedgehog stood stunned several seconds too long, having to narrowly dodge between the closing doors of the elevator and run to catch up with the hedgehog who was now pushing the trolley through Tails’ door. 

      Minus being threatened to be dequilled, the smile on his face was absolutely blindingly bright as the rest of the night went along swimmingly. Tails even offered to let them stay for dinner, which Shadow at first declined before Sonic roped him into staying. It took a lot of persistence, especially since Shadow mentioned that Rouge was expecting him for dinner, but he managed to get the ebony hedgehog to stay a bit longer. The thought that he could hold even that small fragment of power over the other, even if it was small and miniscule, was a rush in itself.

      It wasn’t that elegant of a meal, mostly something Cosmo made. It was, unsurprisingly, vegetarian. Shadow had no issue with it, but Sonic seemed to be picking around his food, even managing to steal a little bit of bacon Tails’ plate had. It was strange to see a hedgehog have a preference for meat, when a wild one would consist primarily of insects or small berries and veggies, but Shadow tried to push the existential dread of higher sentience vs lack of higher sentience, and their different biological capabilities.

            “Thank you for this lovely meal, you are an efficient chef for your age.”

      Cosmo smiled shyly at that, bowing her head as both Sonic and Tails threw in their own praises, despite not even eating her food. It really was a well made orecchiette pasta, even topped with broccoli sauce. Shadow reflected on how he hasn’t had the energy or effort to cook for himself in years, and with another bite wondered if he should begin picking up recipes again. It would likely make Rouge beyond happy, so perhaps there was a reason to swing by the grocery store sometime soon, after all.

      The rest of dinner went surprisingly well, despite Shadow’s lack of conversational skills and the two brothers’ lack of eating Cosmo’s food. However, as it began inching closer and closer to 0:00, the ebony hedgehog couldn’t help but grow restless. He hasn’t been outside of the house for this long since he has been deployed, and the anxiety growing in his chest was highly unwelcomed. It didn’t take long for Sonic to notice this, and he couldn’t help but feel grateful when Sonic made an excuse about having another errand to run. 

      However, when they finally made it down to the lobby of the dormitories, the blue hedgehog grabbed his wrist and pulled him a different direction from the door. Shadow quickly yanked his hand away, crossing his arms.

              “What on Earth are you attempting, faker?”

      Sonic sighed in exasperation, regarding Shadow with a bored look.

                    “I want to show you something real quick, I promise it won’t take more than maybe 10 minutes. You can spare that much time, right?”

     Shadow tapped his fingers on his forearm, trying his best to steel his nerves. It was getting increasingly harder with each spike of his heart rate - never in his life had he wanted to be outdoors so much than he does right now, always wanting to stay in closed doors. It felt claustrophobic, like the walls were closing in on him. 10 hours felt like 10 years at this point, and the familiar scent and atmosphere of his room was desperately craved. Either his face was growing with irritation or apprehension, because Sonic just sighed softly and smiled sheepishly.

                     “You were complimenting Cosmo’s plants earlier, I wanted to show you that the dormitories had this one common room with, like, a TON of flora.”

      The ebony hedgehog tried to run earlier’s conversation in his head, but came up empty and stumped. Had he really said something along those lines? Shadow was left so breathless and flabbergasted over the lapse of memory, he barely noticed when Sonic had grabbed his bicep and began pulling him gently to the room in question. 

      It took a few more moments for Shadow to catch up with the present once more, his mind frantic about the fact he didn’t remember making small talk with the weird plant-looking 12 year old. However, when he did, his eyes widened uncharacteristically wide at the amount of plants that one singular common room could hold. From floor to ceiling, the walls of the room were see-through like a greenhouse, despite the door to the room being the only solid one. As though they built this room off the building to simply be an accessible greenhouse.

                     “They made this for the agriculture and botany majors. Basically, people bring their dying plants here to get nursed by them, and the majors get like, extra cred for keeping it all healthy ‘n stuff. Pretty neat, right?” 

      Shadow nodded slowly, silently, quietly wondering if he spent long enough in this room with his phone, would he be able to learn every name of every plant? He recognized a few, a coleus that a patient he treated once was allergic to. Or the dahlia, aster, and sunflowers. Yet, there were so many different shades and colors around him he could barely register or recognize them all in one sitting.

           “So they just… Nursed them back to health, then?”

      Sonic looked up from the aster he was smelling, blinking several times as if he was trying to catch up with the sudden inquisition. Shadow dwelled on the fact that, if the blue hedgehog was his one former patient, he’d be going into anaphylactic shock right now, with no epipen on hand. He tried to push the thoughts of CPR out of his mind, feeling haunted by thoughts of rebound anaphylaxis and emergency surgeries involving bloodied scalpels. 

                        “Yeah, pretty much. It’s really cool how resilient life can be, right?”

      Sonic finally speaking snapped his mind from his dangerous train of thought, making him realize he was still heavily on edge. The hilarity of the blue hedgehog’s words felt like rubbing salt in the wound that was his racing thoughts at the moment, as he began running his fingers over what he thought to be a chrysanthemum.

            “Life is as resilient as it is fragile. It is remarkable that these students are able to prevent the inevitable for a little longer, however.”

      Sonic hummed at that, tilting his head to try and catch the look on Shadow’s face. The ebony hedgehog regarded that distant, searching look in emerald eyes with heavy discomfort. He’d rather not have the blue hedgehog trying to grasp for straws from his words, the meaning was rather self explanatory. However, just as he thought that, the hedgehog’s eyes got a melancholic look that didn’t look as though it belonged there.

                         “Hey, say Shads…”

     Sighing, the ebony hedgehog turned to look at him fully. It’s true that this greenhouse distracted him from his growing need to leave, and he was enticed by the flowers just as Sonic had luckily guessed, but he’d rather leave as soon as possible regardless. The world was beginning to feel too much at the moment, full of reminders of death wherever he walked. 

     Wherever life was, death was inevitable. Even in an environment surrounded by thriving plants, there will always be a dead leaf or a broken cause. The reminder was something he’d rather put in the back of his mind for now, to later deal with when he could properly self reflect. When he could remind himself that, even amongst hopeless cases, there were survivors. Yet, even then, he wondered if his efforts truly even mattered sometimes.

            “What is it, hedgehog?”

     Again, Sonic hummed. He plucked a flower from off the mixture of asters, it being red. Shadow noted solemnly that by plucking such flower, he had essentially killed it. How cruel such a simple act can be, when people don’t even notice or bat an eye. One swipe of your hand, one pull of the trigger, and it’s all gone within a moment before your eyes.

                           “My favorite flower has always been an aster. Dunno why, I just thought you’d find that interesting. They come in all sorts of colors: red like this one, purple, white, pink, lavender, blue… If you google them, they’ve got tons of interesting facts about ‘em. I won’t bore you with the details, but you should totally check them out.”

      He twirled the now bleeding, leaky stem between his fingers for a moment, before reaching out towards Shadow’s head with it. The ebony hedgehog flinched back for a moment, so the blue hedgehog hesitated, but after a few seconds of the both of them fidgeting, Sonic continued. The flower found its new home, tucked behind his ear. Shadow tried his best not to lean into the lingering touch of the other’s hand, instead watching with relief once it fell back to the blue hedgehog’s side once more. Why did he feel compelled to lean into his touch in the first place? 

            “...It’s going to wilt now that you’ve plucked it.”

      The blue hedgehog regarded Shadow’s words with an expression he has seen a million times over again. It was the silent type of grief that was common amongst battlefields, where you had a lot to say but not enough time to say it. You had to keep moving, let your feet take you as far as you could run. It was less about winning the war at that point, and more so keeping alive as best as you could. It was pitiful, it was heart wrenchingly painful, as suffocating as the sea of bloodshed itself.

                         “Asters wilt early fall at the latest, so the fact it hasn’t died yet when it’s November was a miracle itself, Shadow. You know... you seem like the type of hedgehog who’d really like flower pressing, if I had to guess?”

      The ebony hedgehog furrowed his eye ridges, trying to decipher what the other meant. He didn’t have to wait long for the other to go on a small tangent though, answering a few of his overhanging questions.

                        “Flower pressing isn’t for everyone, but basically like. You drain the dying flowers by hanging them upside down, and press them flat. Google easily has videos on it, if you’re interested. I can send you videos or look up tutorials for you and all that! They last around 5 or so years after that, since around that time their color fades a bit and all.”

      Shadow reached a hand up to his ear, it flickering to his own touch, before gently grasping the red aster resting there. He twirled the stem between his fingers, much like Sonic had before, looking down at it thoughtfully.

             “Why, per say, do you feel as though I would wish to preserve a dead flower?”

      Sonic began walking towards the exit of the greenhouse, and Shadow felt compelled to follow. It had less to do with leaving at this point, and more-so with feeling lost. Lost in confusion, lost in the world, lost in the meaning of this red aster. What was so special about this flower in particular, that Sonic felt compelled to give it to him, to tell him it meant something more? Was it because it was red? Surely, it had to do with a simple reason as that. He felt like he was overthinking this, and yet earlier, his own words to Sonic about not being free from the same burdens as others hung heavy in his mind.

                           “I don’t know, just a feeling. I’m a hedgehog with many gut feelings, afterall. You could say I am just a guy who loves adventure, moving at the speed of sound from one place to the next. I see a lot more than people expect of me, so like. Just take my word for it and try it, won’t you?”

     Once they both were in the fresh night air, Sonic stretched, yawning. He walked at a slightly slower pace than Shadow, just simply because he liked the look of his body from this angle. Yet for some reason there was a fondness that accompanied looking at the hedgehog’s back, circulating with the normal variously conflicting feelings he held for the other.

               “I make no such promises, hedgehog... I will, however, take any information you decide to provide me with under consideration.”

      As they sat to get situated before the motorcycle turned on, Sonic nuzzled his face without hesitation into Shadow’s shoulder. Even with how on edge the other seemed, the affection seemed to be well received. He could faintly smell a smoky scent on the jacket, accompanied by some rustic cologne. Sonic closed his eyes, trying to commit the smell to memory as he wrapped his arms a bit more sensually around Shadow’s torso than he meant to.

      The ebony hedgehog didn’t speak up about it, and when they peeled out of their parking spot, they went only a few miles over the speed limit. Sonic was too tired to complain about the lack of rule breaking this time around, instead letting his eyes close and take in the warmth that was Shadow’s back. He couldn’t help but smile at the fact that, before taking off, Shadow looked so, so longingly at the aster in his hands. He hoped it wouldn’t get too crushed or ruffled up before the ebony hedgehog got home, in case he really did want to press it.

                      “Do you prefer calls or text messages?”

     Shadow’s ears twitched at that, trying to keep his eyes on the road instead of looking back at the hedgehog that was hanging off of him like he was a pillow. The tone of Sonic’s voice suggested just that - sleepiness, contentment. Meanwhile his mind was still a catastrophic cacophony of chaos, buzzing endlessly with existential questions between the meanings of life and death itself. 

      The only thing holding him to this mortal plane and his body right now was the soft warmth of Sonic against his back, which somehow mellowed him out enough to prevent dissociation for the time being. 

                “...Pardon?”

      A sigh could be heard behind him, before those hands around his torso slid down to mess with the hem of his shirt. Shadow didn’t know how to react to that, feeling his thighs tense up with how close Sonic was to his-

                      “I said: do you like phone calls or texting? Is it easier to talk on the phone or through written word? Come on Shads, keep up here, I thought you were smart.”

      The ebony hedgehog felt his face was on fire as he turned down the road that would lead him to Sonic’s house, the same one Rouge’s highschool graduation party was hosted at. It was hard to give the other an answer when he couldn’t trust his own voice. He could feel Sonic’s cold hands brushing against the fur on his stomach, as the blue hedgehog played with his shirt hem as though it were a casual everyday occurrence. 

      The anxiety he felt from earlier melted away, and Shadow was left with a whole new flood of emotions. One that put him on edge, too many feelings he couldn’t name all at once, most of which were pleasant but all of which terrified him beyond belief. Yet, he didn’t dare ask Sonic to stop touching him like this, feeling a familiar feeling pooling in his gut. 

      He wasn’t sure if he should feel shame for clinging onto the distracting feelings of attraction or not, knowing later he’d have an emotional breakdown over it regardless. It didn’t hurt to prevent the inevitable a little longer, right? Like… the flower pressing Sonic was telling him about earlier. The colors would become faded over time, but perhaps in order to reflect and enjoy those emotions a little longer, it wouldn’t hurt to preserve them 5 extra years longer. To prioritize something that felt good over the growing restless panic his body was teetering in and out of, constantly putting him on the edge of something he wasn’t fully sure he could ever recover from.

                 “.... Whichever suits you at the time you wish to contact me, I am fine with.”

      Sonic hummed at that, resting his cold palms flatly on Shadow’s stomach beneath his shirt before leaning in to nestle his nose in the crook of his neck. The ebony hedgehog was hyper aware of every movement Sonic’s body made against his now, realizing too late how touch starved he really was. Shadow hadn’t noticed how much he desired intimacy up until this moment, and the ebony hedgehog tried desperately to drown out the sensations by focusing on the cold chill of the night air around them.

      The cold chill couldn’t match the freezing sensation of the blue hedgehog’s hands though, or the burning heat of his body wrapped so perfectly around his. Finally, Shadow let out the shaky breath he was holding as they turned the corner and began approaching the house they first met at.

      Stopping on the same curb he had parked on the first time he arrived to Sonic’s home, He watched in a daze as the hedgehog hopped off the motorcycle and unclip the helmet on his head. Shadow dumbly accepted the helmet, placing it on his head and clicking it into place. Before he could rev his engine again and get going, though, Sonic leaned over and caught his attention once more by placing his hand on Shadow’s.

                       “Thanks for helping me out today, Shadow. Mind if I call you tomorrow night?” 

       The ebony hedgehog wanted to say he minded, that he didn’t want Sonic to bother him unless it was important, that he was just doing this as an obligation. None of those words came out, though. Instead, he simply shook his head no, he didn’t mind, and felt a strange pull to stay with Sonic. To stay in this moment and forget boarding himself up in his garage, instead wanting to board himself up with the other hedgehog and learn everything there was that made him tick. Why did he feel this way? It didn’t make any logical sense. 

       Nothing about this made sense, and it was exactly the reason he didn’t do any of the things his body was begging him to do. Anxiety began to take over his reasoning again, which in this case was considered a blessing to him. He’d much rather stay in what was a known variable, know what he knows right now and hang onto it desperately. None of these emotions were right, or coherent. They were messy, they were new, they weren’t organizable or controllable. 

      Anxiety, however, could be controlled if he just got home and shut that garage door, locking the world out for weeks on end, only knowing the passing of time from his dull routine by the chirping of the birds outside. Sonic was anything but dull or routine, instead radiating an air of spontaneous disaster. Shadow shouldn’t find that so damn attractive, he shouldn’t find Sonic so fucking appealing, it wasn’t right of him. This feeling wasn’t right of him.

      As the blue hedgehog smiled an oddly sweet smile, pulling his hand away, Shadow felt the ugly grotesque urge to pull him back down into him again. To close the distance between them, and keep it closed instead of putting more distance by leaving. The urge was quickly and violently shoved so far down inside of him that Shadow felt like barfing in retaliation to the emotional suppression he was fighting through. Thankfully he didn’t have to stay here long enough to do so, saving himself embarrassment and consequences of getting sick on nerves in front of the other hedgehog present. Without much else said, he began revving up his engines again. 

      When Sonic waved him off, and he sped down the road, his eyes hardly focused on what was going on around him. All he could think about was the fact that he was expecting a call from Sonic sometime tomorrow night, and how much he was already looking forward to it. He hated it. Most of all, though, he hated how much he wanted to just turn back around. 

      If he just got home, he could have his panic attack in peace, with no outside distractions. The world would melt away again, and he’d have his routine. A routine he did not intend to make Sonic a part of. He could not, ever, be a part of it. He was an unexpected variable, he was the very definition of life itself. Beaming brightly and with the loveliest of emerald eyes. 

     It sickened him, he just wanted to curl up tight in himself and forget how even the bluest of flowers would lose their color after 5 years of being pressed. How meaningless it was to try and preserve something that was dead, let alone try and preserve a feeling that would eventually die or shoot him mercilessly in the back when he least expects it. 

      If everything ends in death, why would he keep trying? Why would he keep holding on tightly, never letting go? Look at how far that has gotten him, how far never letting go has taken him. It held absolutely no positive results, and these pleasant feelings were temporary, and yet even with that logical train of reasoning, he still felt like turning around.

      Sonic stood on the curb long after Shadow was gone. He clutched the borrowed and forgotten sweater, that still hung loosely around his shoulders but hugged gently to his hips.

      Much like he’d imagine Shadow would if he had asked him to stay the night. 

Chapter Text

            “ You want me to what now?

      It has been about a week and a half since Sonic had begun calling him every night, and before that it was about three weeks of calling him every Friday. Shadow wasn’t sure what happened that third week when he fell asleep over the phone, but whatever was said in his sleep seemed to only motivate the blue hedgehog to bug him even more. It aggravated him to have shown such a hint of vulnerability, especially since Sonic refuses to even let him know what was said. He claimed it to be “his and unconscious Shadow’s little secret,” whatever that fucking meant.

      The worst part of all, though, was that Shadow wished he could call it bugging at this point. Often times he’ll have to find something to preoccupy him every day so he doesn’t obsessively check the time, otherwise he’ll get disappointed at how long it is until Sonic calls. He thinks back to the text message Sonic sent about being glad to know Shadow is timely, but the ebony hedgehog found it nothing but a curse. Time was his enemy on his worst days, and a nuisance on his best. 

      Especially when Sonic is an hour late in calling him, it makes his anxiety spike and almost every time it causes Shadow to nearly say some things he knew he’d regret. Things and feelings he wasn’t ready to admit to himself let alone the other he’s grown accustomed to knowing. He hated feeling so dependent on the other’s voice, it ignited his fight or flight instincts. It made him wonder why he was even doing this all in the first place, when it really had no coherent point or reasoning. 

                  “Look I don’t know what’s wrong with her, Shads! And she’s Tails’ cat so I-”

      Shadow huffed in aggravation, slamming his kettle on the stove in front of him. He knew that Sonic heard it, and guilt immediately painted his features. Thankfully, that couldn’t be made evident over the phone. He’d rather not have to feel the embarrassment of his apologetic expressions.

            “I’m a fucking doctor, faker. Not a damn vet.”

      Reaching to turn the kettle on to start his tea, he paused, noticing how long it took for Sonic to reply to that. Was he being too harsh again? The terrain of their relationship was a rocky one, and they’ve had several miniature fights so far. At least, mini in the sense they made up directly afterwards. According to Rouge, however, they sounded like if they were in the same room, they’d be at each other’s throats.

      The fact he had to admit that was probably a likelihood made Shadow feel ashamed, and he wondered how he could proactively avoid upsetting Sonic. It’s not like Sonic didn’t overstep his boundaries all the time, sometimes he was just as stubborn and pushy as the ebony hedgehog could be. Wait, was he pushy? He felt his muzzle heat up in irritation and frustration at himself, unsure if he’s ever overstepped any invisible boundaries he didn’t know of.

      It wasn’t his damn fault that Sonic was infinitely ten times more attractive while angry. To hear such a serious rage from his voice, usually accompanied by a taunt or some form of lashing out. Shadow once again felt shame over it, but it was a shame he was learning to live with. Should he be allowing himself this luxury knowing it could have future repercussions? Was it alright that he purposefully did things to get reactions out of the other? Shadow honestly couldn’t figure out what exactly he was trying to accomplish or grasp when he pushes every single one of Sonic’s buttons down, just that he kept slamming them every chance he got. 

      It didn’t help his case that for whatever reason, in moments like these, Shadow wished to see Sonic’s face. He longed for some sort of context clue or genuine emotion hidden well beneath the mask of smugness or bright happiness he always wore. Something to tip him off to that silence that stretched for longer than he felt comfortable with, since he wasn’t much of a conversationalist type. He felt like despite constantly being in contact with Sonic lately, communication was still their shittiest attribute. At least over the phone. Why was that? What was it about Sonic that it made it harder to understand each other over phone calls? Yet, the blue hedgehog insisted to call him every night, and Shadow didn’t dare to reject it considering how…. Helpful that has been for his sleep schedule lately.

      He hated to admit it, just like he hated to admit anything involving Sonic, but the other helped him fall asleep. It didn’t help that the blue hedgehog somehow picked up on it, and teased him about it at any opportunity he could. Shadow would have to bug Rouge to see how the over-zealous jock managed to wiggle that information out of the dark, and if she had anything to do with it.

                  “Aren’t…. Mobians like, basically animals though? Just more wordy and much bigger, or something? I mean, we walk on two legs and tower over them but like….”

      Shadow paused his self-reflecting and existential crisis to think over Sonic’s words. He hated to admit it, just like everything else lately, but Sonic was right. He hated so much when Sonic was right, it drove him up the fucking wall. Their reproductive systems as well as internal organs were slightly different than their wild counterparts, but the general gist of their biology was remarkably similar. He sighed with exasperation and began to walk to his room in the garage, passing by Rouge’s room. 

      She seemed busy with something, and it mildly concerned him as to why she looked so downcast, but she seemingly noticed him and she perked up from whatever she was writing.

                       “Oh, Shadow, hun! What’s up?”

      Sonic barked out to Shadow to say hello for him, but Shadow ignored him promptly to lean through the doorway to get a better look at her. The bat looked as though something was bothering her, by the way her wing fluttered weakly behind her. That caused him to slip in fully, turning his phone on speaker to place on the desk she had just thrown her notebook to.

                       “Oh- I’m fine hun I don’t need tha- aaaaaaoooOOOHHHH my CHAOS that- FEELS GREAT. You’re the work of AAAA LITERAL GOD.”

      The ebony hedgehog continued to roll his elbow into the shoulder blade of his sister, as she hunched forward and released the previous tension in her body. Slowly she slumped noisily into the bed and hummed shakily at the massage. For some reason, Sonic’s previous shouting before fell eerily silent, but Shadow ignored it to focus on working the tense muscle that he could tell was gnawing at his sister’s nerves.

            “I told you not to overwork your back, it’ll mess with your wingspan. You want the stress on them to heal over better, so you don’t have to go back to physical therapy, correct?”

      Rouge purred and her wings fluttered at the sensation of Shadow hitting a particularly lumpy knot, nearly whacking the hedgehog in the face in the process. She looked at him sheepishly as he dodged, pressing down and beginning to rub the bundle of nerves that tightened up so much. If it wasn’t for Sonic being on the other line, he’d be scolding her worse for her lack of self care. She seemed to sense that, and he could tell she promptly ignored the second half of his statement for that very reason. They’d have to discuss it later in private, then.

                        “But then I’d miss out on these great massages you’re doing - on the phone with Blue ? Tell Big Blue how good you are with your hands, it’s sooooo good. DON’T WORRY SEXY BABY BLUE, I WON’T TAKE UP TOO MUCH OF HIS TIME! THEN HE CAN WORK ON YOUR HARD MUSCLE NE-”

      Shadow grabbed one of her decorative pillows and whacked the bat on the back of the head with it. She shrieked with offense and then laughed, rolling around and kicking him in the chest with a loud thump. It hardly did anything to harm him, his body was thick with muscle and built to handle a punch or two. Plus, it would have hurt more if she was wearing a pair of heels. He knew that from experience, sadly.

                        “You’re going to mess up my hair like that, you big softie!” 

      She huffed her last bit of laughter, grabbing a pillow and hitting it across his quills, knocking a few out of place. Hopping away again, he grabbed the phone from the desk and gave her a disapproving look, trying to bat down his head. 

            “Don’t start a pillow war with me right now, Rouge. I’m about to leave.”

      Rouge lifted an eye ridge at that, and hummed.

                        “So you ARE going to give big blue a taste of those hands, huh? Don’t start a fight you can’t finish , softie.”

      Sonic finally made a sound on the other line, snorting. He sounded like he was trying not to snicker, but Rouge didn’t say anything particularly hilarious. Shadow raised an eye ridge at the phone, even though he knew the other couldn’t see it.

                  “Is- Is Rouge’s nickname for you different ways to say soft ? Oh- Oh man, I-”

      The blue hedgehog began cackling on the other line, and Rouge gave Shadow a shit eating grin. It seemed like the siblings were having a war with their eyes, and the ebony hedgehog was threatening her not to say the words she was about to say. He slowly put the phone down as she opened her mouth, and tried to rush to get the pillow again.

                          “Oh trust me, he’s a big softie for his family, but for you Blue I’m sure he’s extra har-RRAAAAAHHH THAT’S MY HAIR! OH YOU’RE GOING TO GET IT YOU ABSOLUTE ULTIMATE BRAT!

      As Shadow playfully hit his sister with a pillow to try and distract her from saying anything more incriminating, she kicked him and threw various things off her bed at him. Things in the room were getting knocked all over the place, and both siblings could hear “Big Blue” moving away from the receiver to wheeze with uncontrollable laughter. 

      Once the fight had died down, mostly because Rouge was satisfied with the disheveled look the hedgehog had, she threw the pillow off to the side and got up to flutter weakly over to the phone. She stumbled a bit on the landing, which made Shadow’s eyes soften with worry.

      The bat hardly noticed his expression as she stole his phone, motioning the other to follow her, humming all the way. Sonic sounded as though he was recovering at this, as Shadow begrudgingly did as he was motioned to do, mostly because the bat had snatched his phone and he needed it back in order to leave. 

      When she pulled him into the bathroom, he lifted an eye ridge.

                       “If you’re going on a date with big blue you should brush your quills and get rid of those rings under your eyes.”

      Shadow sighed, shaking his head and leaning against the counter. 

              “I’m not going on a date, I’m looking at his brother’s dumb cat.”

      Sonic could be heard audibly getting offended, and the ebony hedgehog couldn’t help but smirk at the image that his head supplied of the other bristling in rage. Rouge shot Shadow a disapproving look for trying to provoke him, but her brother promptly ignored it. She couldn’t blame him, she ignored his scolding looks just as much. 

                  “His cat isn’t dumb ! You’ve just got no taste in cat names!”

      Snorting, Rouge handed him the brush. He brushed through his quills as she pulled out some of her foundation and eyeshadow. It felt weird to be on the phone with Sonic while his sister began to do something that normally consisted of only them, so he debated hanging up on the other. As if sensing his desire, the bat moved the phone off to the side and gave him a look he couldn’t quite decipher. However, it was one that screamed blatant advice on the matter. ‘Don’t start a fight you’re not going to finish, softie.’

            “Wrenches is hardly a proper cat name, faker.”

      His sister’s face went soft finally at that, and when he placed the brush down, she leaned up to begin rubbing foundation gently under his eyes to help replace the dark look of them. She hummed, leaning in to squint at them, which threw Shadow off. Normally she didn’t examine his face so closely, was something wrong with it? Sonic had retorted something that he hardly heard, but now sounded like he was trying to scold his cat in the background to not eat something she shouldn’t be eating.

                        “The bags under your eyes, they’ve been getting a bit less pink lately.”

      Shadow blinked at that, and was glad his sister left it at that. He wondered if Sonic even heard it, and if he did, if he picked up on the subtlety of what that could possibly mean. It was true, he hadn’t cried in a while. Mostly because being on call with Sonic every night prevented his night terrors or any other type of nightmares he could have. Although, wouldn’t Rouge know that best? It has been a while since she’s had to crawl into bed to snuggle up to him and keep him feeling calm and safe. She hardly had to comfort him at all these past few weeks, especially the last week and a half. 

      Was…. Was that really the help of Sonic? Did he let himself get too attached to something again? His eyes looked at the phone, drinking in the sound of Sonic continuing to scold his cat in a notable baby-tone. It was super uncool of the hedgehog, and normally he’d point it out to tease him, but now his eyes took on that contemplative look.

      Rouge knew that look, but she didn’t feel it was appropriate to say anything or interrupt his thought process. She knew the other hedgehog was going to agonize over this subject for a long, long time. She just hoped that big blue was willing to wait for the idiot to catch up with how he felt, but then again, she doubted her cheery friend even knew what he wanted fully either. 

                  “Hey Rouge think you can hurry up with whatever grooming you’re doing to Shads? My cat is still going feral over here and I kind of need to know why, you know?”

      These oblivious boys, dancing around each other in circles and making complete fools of themselves in the process. She sighed dreamily, wishing her love life could be as lovely and predestined. Before she could get herself off track, though, she hesitated with the rest of her makeup. She looked at her brother’s face, then the makeup, and chose a soft shade of red-grey shimmer.

                       “On it, Big Boy. Now, close your eyes, you softie.”

      Shadow’s attention was brought back to her, as he relaxed against the vanity behind him, closing his eyes. She used a brush that normally would be used to apply blush to put a few quick puffy dabs along his eyelids, then blew on them to dissipate some of the sparkle that this eyeshadow sometimes left behind. Using her thumb, she moved some of it around gently, trying to spread the rest out so it wasn’t such a strong effect. 

      Normally, Rouge would cake this eyeshadow on with a smoky effect for that bedroom eyes look. However, as Shadow opened his eyes again, she couldn’t help but smirk at her work. Shadow didn’t need a lot to make his eyes hold that smoky look already, considering how dark his lids were. If anything, most eyeshadows barely showed up on his lids, but this one really made the red markings around his lid as well as the fire in his eyes pop. 

      With an eyelash curler, Rouge instructed him to close his eyes again and pulled them to the side in that sharp way she always did. This was the part Shadow liked most about leaving the house, and she knew it even without him telling her. He liked looking as sharp and naturally drop dead gorgeous as he possibly could. It gave him more confidence, knowing he wasn’t leaving looking like how he felt - which often was, as he so elegantly puts it, “total and utter shit.”

      To be honest though, even without makeup every time they left the house, his beauty was already natural. Rouge couldn’t help to also admit, despite that, the look she gave him really suited him. It masked some of the more prominent effects of his sleeping issues and panic attacks. Once they were fully done, Shadow grabbed his phone and made it to his garage.

      Even though she didn’t have to, Rouge followed him to the garage, standing in his doorway as he fussed over which sweater to pull over his quills, huffing at Sonic that he’ll be there soon just as the blue hedgehog began complaining once again. It was beautiful, seeing people falling even when they didn’t know about it yet. 

      Rouge was worried at first that he wasn’t ready to open his heart up yet, but he really was a big softie, now wasn’t he? A heart of gold, covered in a protective layer of white fluff. She wanted nothing but the best for her brother, and with a pinch of guilt in her heart, she knew he’d want the best for her, too. Guilt hung heavily in her chest at what she was going to do the moment he drove off, but he’d forgive her when he eventually found out, right? 

      It wasn’t her fault he didn’t need her anymore, or at least not as much. She should be happy for him, and cheering him on. Which she fully intended to do. There was nothing Shadow wouldn’t do for her if he knew she was feeling this way, but Rouge couldn’t bring herself to do anything about it. It would be as easy as counting to 3 to drop a hint to her brother, and he’d immediately catch it. He’d drop everything and console her, just as she used to do with him before getting more acquainted with big blue.

      As his sibling, Rouge decided with finality that the next minute she had with him, she’d sit him down and discuss how she felt. It didn’t make sense to keep him in the dark, even if she felt guilty for pulling him into her problems the moment his seemed to ease up even the slightest. Especially when he seemed to be hitting it off with her rambunctious friend. It was good to see him finally thriving, even if she knew his problems were hardly gone. That only made what she was about to steal from him all the more guilt wrenching.

      As he sat down, Shadow felt his sister’s eyes on him, and he lifted an eye ridge at her. She seemed tense for some reason, and in that moment he debated not driving off. He wanted to ask Rouge why her face looked so distant, why she was bothered earlier and what was bothering her now. It was never a good sign when she began looking like that, but she hadn’t asked him for help recently, so was it overstepping his bounds to worry so heavily for her? 

      Shadow knew how much she hated when others looked down on her, even if the worry was warranted. He had tried several times in the past to explain to her that he was not pitying her, but simply trying to help, but she rarely found condolence in that, regardless. 

            “I’ll be back home soon, make sure to order something to eat, alright?”

      Rouge nodded, but Shadow felt doubt rising in his gut. That doubt made him want to stay even more, to close that big garage door and to tell Sonic he wasn’t leaving after all. However, he knew that she’d just get defensive if he pressed her on it now, but that didn’t get rid of the heavy feeling in his chest that something was wrong. That she wasn’t as okay as she’s been leading him on to think as of recent. 

                        “If you end up staying the night, just shoot me a text.”

      Her voice was a purr now, and Shadow felt his face flush with embarrassment at the fact Sonic probably heard that. He huffed, shaking his head and grumbling.

            “I’m not spending the night, you nutty bat. Sonic, I’ll be there in 10.”

      The blue hedgehog cackled on the other side of the line.

                  “Really? 10 minutes? That slow? Sounds like you’re getting rusty.”

      Shadow’s mind instantly got distracted from his previous turmoil, as his voice grounded out between gritted teeth.

            “ Correction: I’ll be there in 5, faker .”

      With that, he hung up the phone, and with one last wave to the now grinning Rouge, he drove off at as fast a speed as he could do on the unpredictable, windy back roads. When he neared the city line, he dove into an alley and used a hidden ramp kids made for recreational skateboarding, soaring over the playground of now gawking children.

      Landing with efficiency, he skid around a corner and rounded the lively market place. He noticed Mrs. Rose tending to her shop, but he hardly had time to stop and greet her. As he passed, she had a bittersweet smile on her face at the on-the-go hedgehog. Amy was far too acquainted with speedy hogs and their need for speed.

      Dipping into a few more alleyways, Shadow tried to scan his brain’s map for a shortcut, and decided to skip riding through the college part of town altogether. His motorcycle sped through the high-crime part of town, planning to use the shitty neighborhood as it has plenty of things he could use to get some air. Big mistake.

            “Shit!”

      The ebony hedgehog whipped his head around at the blaring sirens, cursing himself for forgetting how prevalent cops were in this part of town. Their station was close by, and they had a knack for hiding out, looking for criminal activity. Shadow cringed at that, feeling bitter. He served this country, his whole family had served far more than any of them deserved really, and he lived with a government agent, yet they treat him like a filthy outlaw simply for having a bit of fun speeding. 

      The hedgehog bit his lip, knowing that his therapist would scold him for thinking reckless behavior in any way shape or form was excusable. Even with his fast reflexes and excellent reaction time, speeding and doing motorcycle stunts was a form of reckless driving, and it could get him killed one day. In fact, car crashes weren’t something he was totally unaccustomed to, which is promptly why he refuses to drink at any parties with Rouge. He knows this, and yet the thrill was one of the few things that kept him alive. She would have wanted it that way , right? For him to feel free at last. 

      Sonic’s face popped up when he tried to think of her, and that made him nearly miss his cue at ditching the cops. Trying to right his wrong, he turned to fly off the make-shift ramp, landing on someone’s roof. Several shingles fly off when his tires hit it, and the roof tiles landed on the police car. The ebony hedgehog spared a glance to make sure the cop wasn’t severely injured, and when the man only seemingly got out of his car to yell into his walkie-talkie for back up, he sped the fuck out of there. 

      Hopping from roof to roof was extremely difficult as motorcycles weren’t made for getting air without proper ramps, but not impossible for this resourceful hedgehog. Once he heard sirens in the distance, he knew it was time to stop messing around with vandalism and to jump back down. Finding a good alleyway, he pushed on his brakes, revved up his engines while holding his bike in place, and then let go. 

      Steam kicked up off his wheels as he flew off the house, and his eyes immediately recognized the beginnings of college-town neighborhoods. Landing into someone’s yard, he drove down the street just in time to hear someone screaming at him for messing up their petunias. 

      Despite having effectively shaken off any leads, when he got to Sonic’s house he slowed down and killed his bike. He rushed to hide it in the backyard just in time to see the faker peek his head out the backdoor, regarding him with a questioning look. Shadow had never put his bike back here, and it looked odd being surrounded by all the random junk Tails had left lying about in the yard. Really, it was more like a junkyard for old parts rather than a backyard. 

                  “Took you long enough! It’s been 12 minutes, what was the hold up, slowpoke?

      Shadow walked swiftly, dodging between Sonic and the open sliding glass door to look out the front window blinds. The blue hedgehog seemed hesitant before he came to stand beside the ebony hedgehog, looking between him and the shut blinds his friend was peaking out of. Suddenly, just like that, Shadow moved away from the window and turned to Sonic.

            “Don’t worry, I don’t think the cops followed me. If they did, though, I’ll hide in a closet and you tell them you have no idea who I am. Understood?”

      The blue hedgehog’s fake smile died down in seconds as he sputtered, looking as though Shadow had knocked the wind out of him.

                   “Excuse me excuse me- Wh-.... What?! What did you-?! Did you-? ” 

      Shadow sighed in exhaustion, rubbing the side of his face in a motion of disinterest for this conversation.

            “I was driving too fast again, it’s fine. I shook them off. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been arrested, anyways. Where’s your stupid cat, again?”

      Expecting the hedgehog to drop the talk of cops for the sake of defending Tails’ cat again, instead Shadow was unpleasantly surprised when Sonic didn’t say a word and walked somewhere further into the house. The lack of talking set off a weird wave of anxiety that Shadow tried to stomp down, and instead of indulging his thoughts of overstepping boundaries, he instead followed the blue hedgehog to a hallway.

      He watched as Sonic pushed open what looked like a bedroom door, if he had to guess, from all the strange band posters that hung on it. Shadow couldn’t help but drink in the names. The Hoosiers, The Neighborhood, Arctic Monkeys, Meat Loaf, Soul Asylum, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Incubus. From top to bottom the posters littered the door. 

      What he didn’t expect was what would be on the other side of the door was about ten times more unexpected. From wall to wall there were several more posters of various other music styles - too many to drink in all the names of - some overlapping each other and making the band names hard to make out. A dainty looking keyboard piano sat against the wall of the cramped room, and a fairly small set up of drums sat near it. There was no way this was Sonic’s room, right? Nearly tripping over something, he looked down to see a few guitar cases just casually laying in the middle of the floor, one of them opened and displaying a particularly charming looking acoustic.

      If that wasn’t enough to confuse him, looking off to the left there was a desktop and right next to that was a computer and a few gaming systems. The computer seemed to have a game of sorts booted up, but one he didn’t recognize. Taking a closer look, it seemed like the game itself wasn’t truly a game but a 3D designing software. Okay, no. This couldn’t possibly be Sonic’s room, the hedgehog was too dumb to even know a thing about technology. He’d rather run in place for hours than sit down and do something even half-intelligent, let alone make music or a fucking video game. 

      At least, that’s what he assumed. His eyes skimmed the bed to see obnoxiously red sheets, covered in what appears to be a deep blue star blanket with several comfy pillows stacked into the corner of the wall the bed was pushed into. It looked like the corner was a nest of sorts, and Shadow would say his theories held truth considering how many snack wrappers littered the parts of the bed furthest from the corner. A laptop and what appeared to be Sonic’s phone sat near the spot. 

     Honestly this whole entire room was a mess of clutter - whether it be all the candy and chip wrappers or the music equipment, his library of endless video games, the overwhelming amount of posters, the contrasting bedding and pillows. The closet seemed to be permanently wedged open with a broken hinge, and several boxes peaked out of it. Next to the closet was a dresser, and it was really concerning how you could even own a closet and yet still have need for a dresser. Shadow was left trying to debate what the hedgehog would need so much storage space for, grasping at straws that didn’t exist for him at the moment. 

                  “Hey, Wrenches! Ya still here eating junk from under my bed?!” 

      Shadow’s thoughts snapped back to reality to cringe at that, taking a deep breath to even his temper. It didn’t work, however, as his voice still came out a growl.

            “You’ve been letting her eat things she shouldn’t be eating ?! You’re supposed to monitor your pets, Sonic! She better not have been eating anything caffeinated or so help me I swear I’ll make you pay me for the vet visit we’ll have to take!”

      The blue hedgehog flinched at his tone, ears flattening as he whipped his head to face Shadow, pulling the cat from under the bed in the process. If looks could kill, Shadow would want Sonic’s to be the thing that did it. Mostly because whenever he looked angry, it set a flame off inside of him that he didn’t want to ever go away. That look of pure rage on an otherwise bright face, being a true and genuine emotion. Same as the chaotic cackles and excitement, or the momentary shyness he gets sometimes where his voice cracks-

                  “Well it’s not my fault! If I let her walk around the house, she chews everything up! So I put her in my room to try and get rid of her separation anxiety but now she’s just finding weird shit under my bed that I never knew I even had!” 

      Before Shadow could retort, Sonic dropped the cat on the bed in a look of utter shock and covered his mouth with both hands, all the rage dying down momentarily. The ebony hedgehog lifted an eyebrow, watching his friend plop down on the edge of the bed with mild horror. Worry etched at Shadow for a moment, but again, before he could open his mouth, Sonic began to supply him with what he needed to know.

                  “I said- I said shit .”

      Shadow blinked several times, not understanding why that was an issue. Sure, he’s never heard Sonic curse before, and that in itself made up for the fact he stopped being enraged, but to be honest that just made him want to make Sonic angry and cuss even more.

            “So….?”

      The blue hedgehog shook his head and took an evening breath, shaking his head even faster and looking mortified. However, he didn’t supply any more explanation as he turned and gestured to the cat, who seemed to be trying to eat a skittles wrapper. 

                  “Royal Gloom, this is Wrenches.”

      Sonic gestured to the ebony hedgehog, but his face still didn’t seem fully distracted from his earlier slip up, looking beyond wired up.

                  “Wrenches, this is Royal Gloom. He’s your worst nightmare, and he’ll rub off on you. Don’t ever learn bad language from him- HEY DON’T EAT THAT!”

      Shadow didn’t know whether to be weirded out or amused by the way his blue companion seemed to flip out so much over a bad word, but a smirk did reach his face regardless as he sat down and began untying his combat boots. Sonic finally wrestled the wrapper away from the cat, pushing the rest of the wrappers off the bed and onto the floor. That method of cleaning would only bite him in the ass later, considering the cat would likely try and eat them even more once she’s made her way onto said floor.

      She was quite a hefty looking cat, but not quite fat like some of the cats he’s seen before. Still, the bulge of her stomach seemed like a concerning factor he could start with. Recently changed diet, perhaps? It made sense with the little information Sonic has supplied him with, and the wrappers she was previously trying to ingest. He reached over to let her sniff him, and when she instantly nudged his hand, Sonic gasped for some reason. Shadow ignored it, instead petting behind her ears. He wrapped his fingers around to scratch under the feline’s chin as his thumb rubbed soothing strokes behind her ears.

      He rubbed soothing strokes along the outline of her cheek and muzzle next, humming as he noticed some excess build up of snot around her nose, as well as watery eyes. A mild allergic reaction, most likely. That aligned with the sneezing Sonic mentioned earlier as well, as the fact she was eating things she was not supposed to.

            “Hello Wrenches. Do not fret, your blue-furred roommate over here is an idiot. The only rubbing off I do on him is of his own fault, since he’s obsessed with me. Calls me every night just to talk about useless endeavors.”

      Despite not speaking at all in any sort of cooing way, Wrenches’ purring got infinitely louder, even making a happy mewling sound. Her tail flickered, as she began settling more into spot, leaning her cheek into his hand further. It made for petting her further difficult, but lesser sentient cats often were like that, getting lost in the moment of affection and not realizing the inefficiencies of their actions.

            “Hm, yes, that’s exactly what I said. Pathetic, really. Though, it’s hardly an issue of mine, I cannot help being the better hedgehog. Perhaps the faker is truly finally learning how the real world works, hm? Would you agree, you ancient Egyptian feline, of how pathetic this worthless faker tends to be?”

      Shadow glanced over to see if Sonic was taking the bait just as the cat began purring, hoping that maybe he’d be bristling so much he looked to be explosive. However, what he saw was wide eyes and a soft expression. It made him swallow, quickly looking back over the cat. In an attempt to distract himself from why Sonic was staring at him and the cat that way, he began to pick her up. He wanted the familiarity of anger, not the silent shock he was being regarded with. He hadn’t said something wrong again, right? 

      He tried to examine her the best he could despite not being a vet, and instantly began to see what issues she was having. They didn’t seem as severe as he originally thought, and as he opened his mouth to report what he’s observed, Sonic seemingly snapped out of his stupor and blurted out what was on his mind.

                  “Wrenches- Wrenches hates people. It took her several years to get used to me- and- and she still hates me a little. It’s like, a tolerance because I give her food.”

      Despite this stated fact, Sonic looked anything but outraged. Sure, Shadow felt smug and wanted to rub salt in the wound that the blue hedgehog wasn’t favored, but there was something about the way his face looked right now that made him want to be doing other things. Again, he tried to focus his mind back to the cat before them, holding her front paws up.

      She seemed uncomfortable by being held that way, but Shadow needed to get a better look at her belly. His eyes widened at what he examined, letting out a breath. Sonic’s ears twitched at this, leaning in and furrowing his eye ridges.

                   “What's wrong?”

      Shadow laid the cat back down, setting her on her side, running his hand down the belly of the cat, which she bristled at. He shushed her softly, petting her chin with his free hand as he lightly prodded at her underbelly. This seemed to appease her as he tested his theory. When he got to a specific area between the swollen nipples, he felt it. There.  

            “When I had first examined her, I thought she was having a mild reaction to whatever junk she’s been eating underneath your bed. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, exactly … Don’t think you’re off the hook for allowing her diet to be so misguided, though.”

      Tilting his head innocently, Sonic looked over at him with searching and curious eyes.

                  “What’s the diagnosis, doc? Should I save up money to take her to a vet?”

      Shaking his head, Shadow grabbed Sonic’s hand and placed it in the right place, holding his hand over it so the easily energetic hedgehog would sit still to feel. This seemed to make the blue hedgehog bristle, but not in an angry way. Shadow wasn’t sure how to react to the way his friend reacted to the simplest of touches, but it made him want to touch the other more

            “Do you feel that?”

      Sonic furrowed his eye ridges, before muttering in a concerned voice.

                  “Yes… Is she…. Okay? That’s like, not a tumor, right?”

      There were so many more things in the world to find humor in that Shadow has never found funny, but this situation and the way Sonic’s eyes seemed genuinely confused and worried caused Shadow to snort. His shoulders shook and he laughed obnoxiously, bumping his forehead against Sonic’s shoulder as he lifted his hand from the other’s hand to try and muffle himself.

            “Don’t- DON’T be an idiot ! That’s not- That’s not what tumors feel like , faker! Where’d you learn that, Web MD ?!” 

      Trying to recover from his unexpected amusement of the situation, he looked up and held a hand over his mouth, his shoulders trembling still as he tried not to let another laugh break free. Sonic, however, had startled and wide eyes, instead of offended ones. He looked like he was watching a beautiful performance before him, instead of Shadow laughing at him like he was a dumbass, which made the ebony hedgehog fluster at his slip up. He’d much rather have the other fight him on being so condescending, rather than look at him so longingly, like he was something to be cherished for his clearly asshole behavior.

      Turning his head back towards the cat, he began petting down her back fur, noticing that she had hairs standing up on end, from having Sonic touching her moments prior. After his breath was fully caught, Shadow spoke.

            “She’s 5 weeks pregnant. It’s most likely why she seems to have gained some bulk, despite not being overweight.”

      The blue hedgehog gasped, blinking several times as he looked between Shadow and the cat.

                  “You can just- You can just tell that by touching her ?!” 

      The ebony hedgehog nodded, tucking a foot beneath one of his thighs as he leaned over to feel her stomach again. She let out a low irritated ‘ mrrrooowww’ , to which he began to try and ease her temperament again with chin scratches. 

            “At the fourth week they tend to experience mild morning sickness, which you described to me earlier over the phone about last week she was being weirdly averse to food but now she was not. Now, she is seemingly eating things she’s not supposed to, perhaps as a means of separation anxiety like you stated earlier, or perhaps she needs something more to make up for the fact she is carrying life besides her own.”

      Shadow felt around a little more, closing his eyes to concentrate, letting out a hum.

            “She is at five weeks now, which means I can feel the kittens around the stomach wall. Though, as hard as I try, I am still not a vet. I cannot exactly feel around for how many there are, all I can feel as of right now is a couple lumps, maybe four?”

      The blue hedgehog beside him had fallen silent, so he peaked over to see an unreadable expression on his face. When Sonic noticed him staring, he gave him a shaky smile and shook his head.

                  “I can’t believe it! She’s going to be a mom , Shads! That’s.. Wow, that’s- I mean, that’s- so cool … Wow….” 

      For some reason, Sonic’s tone sounded anything but amazed. Instead, it held a melancholic tone, but before Shadow could even try and analyze it further, it was gone. The blue hedgehog leaned down and began cooing the cat who obviously did not enjoy his baby talk.

                  “Look at you! When we got you, you were just a kit like Tails! Ah, who have you been hanging in the sack with, huh? Huh? You have fun when you got out that one time? Is that what it was? No wonder we couldn’t find you for hours, you sneaky lil cat you!”

      The ebony hedgehog moved away to sit back against the wall of Sonic’s bed, watching his friend play with the grumpy looking feline. 

            “Did you not think to get her spayed? You must at least realize the health benefits of such, right?”

      Sonic shook his head, huffing.

                  “We thought she was, the shelter we got her from said they usually did that kind of thing before adoption. Despite that though, isn’t it kind of…. Sad to do that? Get rid of their chances at having a family?”

      Shadow eyed Sonic closely, watching the way he shifted as he lay on his stomach now, playfully batting the cat’s ear and watching her try and grab it with her claws. He thought over his options on what to say, but ultimately settled for the logical route. If he weighed his emotional opinion in on this subject, he would have to admit a fault of his to the other. So cold logic should be applicable to supply what he is not ready to fully admit to his brighter friend.

            “Spaying them has several health benefits, and prevents mistakes such as pregnancy in case a non-neutered cat comes in contact with them. Accidents are prominent in species that can strongly sniff out such heat cycles, and without the proper minds to make such important decisions, it is us as owners that are responsible to monitor them. The shelter you got her from must have messed up her paperwork, since generally they spay and neuter to prevent the overflow of abandoned kittens. There is already an overpopulation ever growing for pets without homes, after all.”

      Sonic hummed thoughtfully, simply continuing to bat the tip of the cat’s ear, managing to curl his finger away in time with each bat of her paw. He seemed to take the information well, and if Shadow had to guess, it most likely had to do with the reason him and Tails had the cat in the first place. Considering they were adoptive brothers without a strong parental figure around, Shadow assumes it most likely went on a deeper level. Before he could further assess the thought process of orphans, Sonic hummed again, this time a little irritatedly.

                  “I’ll schedule her a vet visit I guess, but I don’t think I want to know how many. Life is supposed to be a surprise in a way, right? Never know how much you’re gonna get until you get it! I guess we’ll have to spay her once she has the kittens, then, too? Man, what am I gonna tell Tails?! He’s going to go absolutely wild when he finds out!”

      The ebony hedgehog lifted a knee to rest his elbow upon, so he could rest his face in his hands, watching the blue hedgehog roll over and stare at the ceiling instead. Now without the preoccupation, Wrenches chose her desired company, wedging herself through the crook between his knee and elbow so she could plop down on his thigh on the other side. With an amused huff, he began petting the cat.

                  “I still can’t believe she likes you more than me. Can you believe that? Ungrateful! I was the one who adopted her, but of course she liked Tails more than me, too! I fight tooth and nail to get you grumpy types to like me, and this is the thanks I get? I’m beginning to think you introverted types stick together like glue, which makes no sense, since y’all prefer to be alone!”

      Shadow hummed, closing his eyes and listening to the blue idiot ramble like he knew what he was talking about. He wished the voice didn’t give him comfort, wished he could blame it on the cat in his lap that was purring as he petted her. Wished he could blame it on the fact that life was being born and he’d be able to witness a mother’s love again, even if it was through a cat. Pregnancy wasn’t something he dealt with often, given the fact that it wasn’t his particular medical field, but there was something magical about the experience.

      It uplifted him to hear tales from mothers who had given birth to their children, the irreplaceable bond of family. Family was so foreign yet so familiar to him, and he wondered if Sonic felt anything like he did. The pull he felt to ask was itching at him, but the urge to not speak and allow the other to ramble on endlessly was stronger. The calm was far too strong, or was it truly calm that he felt? Whatever the emotion was, he wished he could blame it on anything but Sonic. 

                  “You'd think that with how she’s pregnant and all, she’d at least think to eat some more edible things. Garbage like, really? She acts like a dog more than a cat sometimes. You act like a dog, you know that, right Wrenches?!”

      Sonic moved his head to direct his speech at the cat, but widened his eyes at the soft sight he saw before him. He has never seen Shadow look so soft before, resting against the wall with a cat on his lap. Suddenly, his mind took a completely different turn of dialogue, as he stared at his companion. The way the sunset lighting was hitting him from the window beside the bed, the way his quills so gently brushed against a Frank Sinatra poster behind him.

      Frank Sinatra wasn’t his tastes, he barely even listened to him, and yet he knew all of his songs at one point. All of them, because he knew someone who loved the more classy songs. The slow, love-bird jazz of it. When he heard that Shadow liked his music, just as that special dear person of his had, it had shook him further to his core. Just like the star blanket wasn’t his, either. Yet Shadow seemed to love that, as well, just as his other precious person had. Stargazing wasn’t exactly something he hated, it was just something he never thought of as important. More of a cloud watcher than a star watcher, you know? 

      So the fact that Shadow would choose to lean against that poster of all things, all the while tangled up with his feline family in his lap on top of a blanket that, for whatever reason, suited his fur color far too much? As though the stars were made just for Shadow? It set something off inside of him, and he sat up in a trembly motion to try and subtly move closer to the ebony hedgehog.

                  “It’s a good thing you’re here to let me know what’s going on, though, Shads. I would have never guessed, honestly. It’s kind of amazing that you can tell these sort of things, you know? Still not as cool as me, but it’s kind of … Well I guess what I’m saying is… That you know you’re… That I feel towards you... while you’re totally lame I still think you’re .... I still really feel towards you … I mean, what I’m saying is I ...”

      When Sonic didn’t finish that sentence and silence stretched on for several minutes after his several rephrases, Shadow peaked an eye open to look at him. He noticed he was sitting up now, leaning closer to him by the second. What he saw there was genuine, an emotion of absolute adoration, and it froze Shadow in spot. Both eyes opened to gaze into emerald ones as Sonic inched closer, both of his hands resting next to his head, as if trying to trap him between himself and the wall of posters behind him.

      The look on his face, that look. Shadow wanted to take a snapshot of it. Wanted to commit it to memory, wanted to engrave it so painfully deep in his mind. Ruby irises scanned every inch of that expression, trying to take in the subtle details of his muzzle, or the hint of yellow-green hiding in those otherwise striking emerald eyes. Another part of him, the paranoid part he was slowly losing grasp of, wanted to push Sonic away and leave immediately. Wanted to flee before what was happening was about to happen. To ensure the distance wouldn’t close any further, that their muzzles wouldn’t turn any more, that he wouldn’t get lost in everything Sonic was and truly is. His breath was so close, it was hard to determine whose breath it was anymore. Like in tandem, united as one breath, almost feeling the brush of lips- a ghost, a whisper of affection, just barely there, almost touching-

      Shadow suddenly jerked away at the sound of a thunderous clap outside, falling over on the bed and staring with wide eyes at the room around him. Sonic blinked at Shadow, and then glanced out the window to see it had started raining. He sheepishly smiled, rubbing the back of his quills. The look he had previously seemed to be completely gone, the emotion placed there crawling back to the furthest retreats of the cobalt hedgehog’s mind. Shadow wasn’t sure if he should be disappointed or thankful, but his mind had worse concerns to dwell over currently. The itch of panic began rising in his throat slowly, making it hard to move any of his limbs from the fallen spot he was now perched in. 

      He knew he had to look ridiculous, like a gangly limbed fool who couldn’t control where his body twisted, but being self conscious was slipping faster than his logic moments prior had. Everything was slipping in a matter of moments, and he couldn't put the pieces back together no matter how hard he was so desperately trying to. 

                  “Uh, I think Rouge is going to make fun of you for this one, but that’s some pretty nasty weather to drive out into….”

      Shadow simply nodded, pressing his lips tightly. Wrenches had leaped from him in his moment of distraught, now finding comfort in wriggling back under the bed. Normally, Shadow wouldn’t mind either way, but that meant his easiest way to ground himself had just left. He felt his mind slipping with every second that passed, and he knew by the way Sonic’s expression changed, that it was obvious.

                  “Hey, uh, I mean I could call you an uber if you want? I know unfamiliar situations can be kind of uncomfortable? Don’t want you to feel trapped here if you need to go, you know? I wouldn’t like, force that of you if you weren’t…. ready to do that kind of thing?”

      The ebony shook his head a simple no, and tried to open his mouth to explain what was going to happen. He had to explain it before it happened, not wanting to freak Sonic out further, afterall. It was inevitable, there was no avoiding it. He hated it, he hated it so much but hating it only made him slip more. It felt like suddenly the walls weren’t there, everything he touched felt fuzzy or hardly tangible. His mind was losing itself, so much so he barely remembered what they were doing before his body began to feel ambiguous.

      Every emotion that toiled inside of him only drove him faster into the episode he was going to have, and he wanted to be anywhere but here, in front of Sonic, who he was bound to freak out in his moment of weakness. As much as an easy way out would be, he couldn’t trust himself to go anywhere right now. He could do anything, reckless or self sabotaging, when his mind wasn’t usable. He was already a million miles away in his head at this point, and putting himself farther away with actual physical distance wasn’t going to prevent the onset of dissociation.

                  “Sonic. I’m going to have a-”

      Just as he found an even voice to speak in, another round of thunder caused every muscle in his body to clench. Once it was over, he opened his eyes, realizing he had squeezed them shut in a painful expression, and in one swift motion he sat up and pushed himself into the corner of pillows that were shoved in the corner. 

      Shadow focused on his breathing exercises, and debated fleeing to the bathroom to ride this out. Try and tell Sonic some petty excuse like he felt sick to his stomach, if he could even talk by the time he could move to stand. Could he even stand right now? His body seemed to be yelling no, you can’t. Stumbling like he was drunk never stopped him before, but the embarrassment of Sonic seeing that would probably be worse than a dissociative episode. 

     The desire to leave still toiled in his mind helplessly, though. Anything to get away from having to deal with this in the presence of someone who didn’t know why he was reacting the way he did. All those thoughts dissipated, though, when he felt the bed dip close to him, and the blue form nestle next to his side.

     A tan arm somehow managed to snake around between the small of his back and the pillows, wrapping loosely around his torso. Shadow didn’t want to look beside him, but the breath on his cheek caused him to turn. His muzzle bumped against Sonic’s, and those emerald eyes - they were fully of concern, just as Rouge would be, but more so they were filled with something he didn’t truly get. They were full of understanding. Even with how close they were, the yellow in Sonic’s eyes seemed golden almost. How could eyes be that many shades of green?

                  “I don’t like thunderstorms either, I get it. My fear of water is even worse, but like…. I’ve been able to get over it pretty well, I guess. Usually company helps, so like - Uh - Anyways. I’d imagine it’s worse for you anyways, you’ve been deployed before, right? Probs gunshots or something, huh? Death isn’t…. it’s not pretty, so you don’t have to worry about it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, yknow?”

      Shadow blinked at the hedgehog, and slowly nodded. It wasn’t his deployment that had caused his fear of gunshot sounds, no. Deployment had desensitized him to the sound, if anything it caused him to further feel and adapt to the dissociative numb that is still itching to crawl into his weary body. To take pilot of him and cause him to do and say things that normally he’d never do and say, in moments of emotional apathy. 

      It taught him how to block it out, and he knew it wasn’t healthy but at this point, with Sonic’s arm around him, he just wanted to lay his head on his shoulder and block it out . He wished that he was back in the military, where seeing blood on his hands was a normal occurrence, that emergency surgery was something every doctor knew how to do. Where death wasn’t something he was allowed to mourn, where death was just the natural reality of life and he wasn’t permitted any feeling other than the emotional and physical numb of his subconscious taking autopilot.

      Anything was better than seeing her lips tainted red. A blue dress stained black. Blonde hair in waves fallen flat on his knees. The sight of a gun being pressed against a temple across the room. How scared those eyes were, his own voice shouting in agony and confusion and shock as he witnessed his first ever tragedy, within the safety of his own home. The home he confines himself in, trying to trap whatever spirits he can there, to keep them alive. 

      To keep the impact of their lives so painfully alive, both the good and bad. All of the nitty gritty things, moved as though they were moved daily. A kettle of tea at the right time every day, or the routine of exercise he does, or even scrubbing the spot on the hallway floor, leading up to the master bedroom where it he stood, gun pressed against his temple, with frightened eyes. Eyes that were scared of the people he once called family . So scared, the wood beneath Shadow’s knees stained black. The bathroom, rushing his hands through the medicine cabinets, the ragged breathing fading as all life except him left the house. So eerily silent. So painfully silent.

      He shuddered, leaning into Sonic’s comforting half-hug without even realizing, and letting out more attempts at even breaths. Shadow was trying so hard to find some sort of balance between numb and aware, but it was a tug of war he was losing desperately. If he became fully numb, he had no idea what would happen. Yet being aware only made the images in his mind all the more prominent, all the more agonizing, like he needed to scream in order to get them out. No, he didn’t want to scream right now, but he couldn’t exactly remember why screaming was bad at this point. 

      He couldn’t even tell how long he’s been sitting here like this, pressed against the other, feeling the rise and fall of his peachy tan chest just barely covered under his loose sweater. That’s right, he’s here with Sonic. In his bedroom. Shadow tried to hold onto that fact, remind himself he wasn’t even in his house. There was no stains on the floor, these floors were carpeted. He couldn’t rush to the bathroom for a med kit, he had no idea where it was even located. The ebony hedgehog tried his best to keep reminding himself where he was, in hopes his mind wouldn’t slip away again. How long has he been sitting here, again? 

      Shadow glanced down at his watch, but the time wasn’t right. Or was it right? He couldn’t tell. He thought it was supposed to be 02:33 - the middle of the night, the house was quiet, he was trying to sleep…. He didn’t get up for another few hours, but then he heard the sound of loud thunder- the sound of shouting, the sound of her body collapsing to the floor in a clunk-

      Before another thunderclap could happen, Sonic did something Shadow had not in a million years expected. The ebony hedgehog felt himself snapping from his stupor of flashbacks at the unexpected sound.

      He was humming, and quite melodically. With how nasally his voice was, Shadow didn’t think he could even sing, let alone be this on tune. The vibration of his chest as he hummed was soothing against the ear Shadow leaned into it, and just as the sound of thunder struck them again, Sonic had managed to move his arm from his back to Shadow’s other ear. He pressed it close to his now disheveled head, trying to cup out the majority of the sound. 

      It only further pushed Shadow into the intoxicating sound of Sonic’s voice, drawing him into the addictive way it dipped on lower notes that he wouldn’t imagine the hedgehog’s normally high and annoying voice could go. It was angelic, and Shadow hated it, and he hated it more than anything he had ever hated before, which is why he gripped a death grip onto the sweater before him. He gripped on for dear fucking life, and with every fiber of his being he “ hated ” the sound. Truly, truly “ hated” it. He focused and indulged in his hatred for it, trying to pull it closer to him, forgetting how pathetic and needy he’d feel for having that desire. For truly, truly needing this. 

      The thunder and storm outside was still so loud, but the sound of Sonic’s humming was somehow louder. How is that possible? Was it because he was laying directly on his chest? He tried so hard to think of an answer, his mind feeling fuzzy yet strangely alright. Was he going to have an episode, or was this preventing it? It didn’t feel prevented, but the numb had stopped spreading for the time being as he allowed himself to drown, sink further into the warmth that was Sonic the fucking Hedgehog. He didn’t feel calm exactly, and the panic in his chest hadn’t died down, but he wasn’t fully numb. He was just hanging on the cusp of breaking down and being somewhat ... trapped in a state of shock.

      Closing his eyes, he tried to push away the buzzing of restless thoughts with Sonic’s ocean deep voice. For someone afraid of water, he currently had Shadow diving into him. Floating dangerously to the bottom, breathless yet somehow full of life. The blue hedgehog said he used to be mute, but that thought was so strange to him. His voice was beautiful, as nasally and annoying as it could be at times, it was downright alluring. It held a charisma that Shadow only wished he could have, and for once that thought didn’t enrage him. He didn’t feel threatened by Sonic having the upper hand in something, instead he felt a strange stab of pride. 

      That even though he had lost his voice once, he somehow found it again. Just as Shadow thought that, the humming morphed into words, Sonic’s fingers carding through the quills nearby Shadow’s ear.

                  “I close both locks below the window, I close both blinds and turn away.”

      The ebony hedgehog recognized the song, and if he wasn’t so drawn to the soothing allure of Sonic’s voice, he’d once again question the other hedgehog’s music tastes. He’d question the tastes of his music just like he’d question the state of his room, how none of it matched that bright and cheery and annoying personality of his. That non stop flow of energy that didn’t feel as though it was ever channeled into such difficult creative processes, that he only ever assumed was channeled into his need to run around and bounce off the walls any chance he got.

                  “Sometimes solutions aren’t so simple, sometimes goodbye’s the only way, oh…”

      Annoyingly fake, annoying fake brightness. How he tries to act like the type of person who speaks and acts first, just to ask questions later. Yet, in the library, he silently observed his friend as he dug his own grave with a quiet contemplation on his face. He had intervened only when the echidna wanted to throw punches, not indulging in the violent outburst like one would assume from Sonic’s overall chaotic personality.

                  “And the sun will set for, the sun will set for you…”

      An adrenaline junkie, someone who laughs at the face of danger, someone who is obnoxiously loud and only cares about running for his college’s track team. These are things that Shadow saw as the faker’s outer personality, but they weren’t the genuine emotions that he has come to associate Sonic with. That personality wasn’t the person who was cradling him close and trying to block the sound of a storm out with a song that just happened to have his name in it. Was there purpose in that? Had Sonic purposefully picked this song to hum? 

                 “And the shadow of the day, will embrace the world in gray, and the sun will set for you…” 

      Shadow didn’t know when he let his arm fall over Sonic’s torso, but now as he moved it, he felt up the smooth fabric of Sonic’s sweater. Listened as the other’s breath hitched in his humming momentarily as he slid up his side and onto a sleek shoulder. He realized suddenly that this was the sweater he leant Sonic weeks ago, the one he forgot to ask to have back. It didn’t matter, he had plenty of them, and he didn’t want to ever want it back regardless of if he had a shortage or not. It complimented the blue hedgehog eerily well in this moment.

                  “ In cards and flowers on your window, your friends are plead for you to stay.

     Perhaps it always fit Sonic, more than anyone realized. Perhaps this room wasn’t a reflection of who Sonic was as a person, not fully, but it still reflected a huge part of him. The part of him that Shadow didn’t realize he had been grabbing for this whole time. Is that why he felt so drawn to dragging genuine emotions out from the other? Was this the soft, gentle, melancholic hedgehog he somehow knew was underneath all that sunshine? Beneath the cold hands and loud cackling, the dangerous look Sonic gets in his eyes when he’s looking at him? The way he goes speechless with awe at the sky where others would either be mid-adrenaline rush or screaming?

                  “ Sometimes beginnings aren’t so simple, sometimes goodbye’s the only way, oh …”

      Sonic, beneath all the chaos and the running, the screaming and the rambling, was a calm blue sky. Perhaps that is why he was not afraid, but he felt at home, amongst those clouds. More at home than a person born with wings she couldn’t use anymore, or a dark hedgehog who needed anxiety ridden thrills to keep himself feeling pumped full of adrenaline and alive. 

      To be less of the fake ghost he had been, wandering around aimlessly for some sort of reason to keep moving. To keep running after a recovery he wanted to give himself, but rarely ever felt like he deserved. In the face of danger, it wasn’t laughter that Sonic had, it was peace. Shadow wondered if maybe one day he’d ever find that chaotic symphony that Sonic seemed to hold inside of him? Instead of shutting out the endless possibilities of the world, could he also find peace amidst the storm? 

      Even though the thunder died down by now, Shadow allowed Sonic to finish his song, and even then he didn’t dare speak up and stop his humming. He just sat there, enjoying the warmth their bodies shared. The ebony hedgehog was sure it would stop raining sooner than later too, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave. Not yet, no. His mind was still fuzzy. Sure, he hadn’t had a full blown dissociative episode, only dipping out here and there, but he could still feel the tremble of his limbs that held the afterkiss of anxiety.

      There was just something about this moment he didn’t want to end. There was nothing romantic about the way he nearly fell apart, and his therapist would agree with him. There was nothing romantic about the context clues of a sadder life that Sonic held, and she’d also agree with that. Nothing romantic about the way his heart clenched at the way the cobalt hero’s voice sang those words, would she agree with that, though? Nothing romantic about the way they held each other, no, certainly, that can’t be….

      As much as he wanted to deny it, though, there was something he couldn’t deny. It was a fact that settled over his moment of self reflection, one that shook him to the deepest parts of his core, something he hadn’t felt anywhere other than his garage. It was that he felt safe. Shadow nearly had violent flashbacks, as he does every single night it storms like this. He nearly dissociated to block it out, which was better than screaming in agony about a situation and threat that didn’t exist. He nearly let himself fall into the momentary numbing comfort of such a scary, horrible thing, something that would have surely ruined his relationship with the hedgehog he was leaning into.

      Yet he felt comfortable despite it. He felt safe despite all of it. Still shaken up, still feeling like he was going to cry? Yes. In fact, he wanted to desperately sob it out even though the episode has long passed with the thunder. Despite being comforted and held, he still wanted to vent it out. He felt safe enough to let his feelings out, before the hedgehog who on a normal day, would taunt him and tease him about finding comfort in their middle of the night phone calls, enough to fall asleep in the presence of the other’s voice on the other line. The notion was childish , these were the feelings of a child. The feelings of a child who would cry to an adult about what bothered them, so that adult could fix it.

      Sonic was hardly an adult in his mind despite turning 19 soon, let alone the fact he could hardly fix what ailed him. Yet, is it not trusted friends that we cry on? Is it not Rouge’s shoulder he sobs into whenever this happens? She was hardly adult-like herself, too, despite being a year younger than him. Yet he leaned on her, because he trusted her, because she was family . Sonic, though, was not family. What was he supposed to be? Was this what having a close friend was like, or was this something different altogether? He hardly felt this way about any of his other offhand friends, no one on his list of contacts warranted the same star he put beside the faker’s name.

      As if on cue, his phone began to ring. Sonic’s humming stopped, and the hedgehog fell silent. Shadow let it ring maybe two more times before slowly moving to grab it from his pocket. He leaned away from the other hedgehog and shifted, noticing that he had overlapped his legs with Sonic’s. Trying to ignore the fact he had somehow clung more to the other than he remembered, wondering if he really did avoid dissociation, or if he just lost smaller gaps of time this time, he picked up the phone on the last ring.

            “Hello?”

      Shadow hardly had time to hate the sound of his own voice right now, foreign to his own ears and rougher than usual. It sounded like he had been crying, even though he had not shed a single tear. A loud shrill voice hit his ears, making him flinch and move the phone away, and he sighed in aggravation.

            “Rouge, I’m fine .”

      She took a loud breath of relief into the receiver, and Shadow could practically hear the release of tension in her shoulders at the sound of her voice. He hoped she had not worked a new knot into her shoulder blades in her frantic buzz of worry.

                        “So you didn’t go out driving in this weather? You didn’t get in trouble with the law again? I don’t have to cover up anything, right?”

      Shadow’s face cringed at that, and wished he wasn’t sitting so close to Sonic. He could feel the blue hedgehog’s eyes drinking him in, especially with how close their faces were still. Even with putting distance between the two of them, he could practically feel every breath and movement Sonic was making.

            “No, I didn’t. Well, I might have broken a few laws earlier, but that was before-”

      Rouge snorted on the other line, and he huffed at her rude interruption. He prayed she wasn’t about to say something that he would rather Sonic not know about, and wondered if he should walk out of the room like he had contemplated earlier. 

                        “It’s fine, I’ll just take your keys away again. It’s not much they can do to you when I’m around, anyways. Diplomatic immunity has its perks, huh? So tell me, what crazy things did you do during your episode if you didn’t-”

      Privacy was something Shadow appreciated greatly, and it felt like all of his privacy was being thrown out the window within seconds. Quickly, he interjected her, his voice practically demanding her to shut up. Sure, she wasn’t on speaker phone, but phone calls were easily heard when you were practically a few inches away from sitting in someone’s lap. Self consciously, he moved his legs from overtop Sonic’s as he spoke, pulling them away completely as to not let it distract him from the words he ground out.

            “I never even left the faker’s house, he’s sitting right next to me .” 

      A couple moments of silence spanned out, before the bat seemingly recovered, sounding nowhere nearly as worried as he felt. She was talking about subtle details of her job as well as almost spilling details of his reckless past dissociative episodes, yet she didn’t seem nearly as bristled as he felt.

                        “Oh, so you are spending the night! I guess I'm worried for nothing, hm? HEY BIG BLUE! TAKE CARE OF MY BIG OL’ SOFTIE FOR ME! MAKE SURE TO GIVE HIM GOOD HEA-”

      Abruptly, Shadow ended the call, feeling every muscle in his body tense up at what he knew she was trying to shout to Sonic. Considering the fact that, moving the phone away from his ear, he still heard her booming voice? He’s pretty sure Sonic heard it, too. That was completely uncalled for, especially with how moments before he was on the verge of a breakdown. Honestly, what was his sister even thinking, sometimes? However, the blue hedgehog only gave a sheepish smile as he sat up more now, looking over at the ebony hedgehog with anything but humor or amusement.

                  “You know, you are allowed to stay the night, if you want. You practically fall asleep on call every night, anyways. Can’t be much different, right?”

      Weighing his options in his mind, he wasn’t sure what to make of the offer. Considering the atmosphere from earlier still hung in the air, it felt wrong to decline. Especially since Sonic had told him he was not obligated to stay, yet he still had a hopeful look in his eyes as if begging him not to go. Shadow recalled not wanting to leave earlier, either. Did he still feel that way, even after grabbing a hold of himself? Even with the sudden thunderstorm, Shadow had not completely forgotten what happened leading up to that event, which caused him to whip his head away. 

      With how close they still sat, he was sure his attempt at hiding the heat on his muzzle was unsuccessful, but the other did not even mention it. A whole other thought popped up in his mind as he weighed his options. The process of Sonic comforting him was not completely gone from his mind, either, but that wasn’t the thing that made him want to stay. He truly did not feel obligation, yet he still wanted to stay.

      Yet, isn’t that proof enough he has burdened the other enough? Shadow tried to cling onto that logic as an excuse, to try and run from the feeling that was still trying to overlap the fear growing in his chest and throat. Emphasis on try. Every time he thought about leaving to go home, he’d take one glance out the window at the rain and think of all the reasons why he felt fear. 

      Fear wasn’t something he was proud of admitting, even more so than all the things he hated to admit about Sonic. One hatred overpowered the other, and the superior yet aggravating option came forward as the only viable one.

            “If that is something you are truly fine with, I will stay for a night. However, I am buying us dinner. I don’t trust your grotesque taste in food.”

      Shadow watched the split second emotion that passed on the other hedgehog’s face, making it evident he didn’t expect the ebony hedgehog to agree. That emotion was gone with the howling winds outside, just as Shadow knew it would, just as Shadow knew the genuine displays of feelings would soon be hidden once again behind that fake confident smirk the hedgehog always adorned. The hedgehog that held him earlier melted away into his previous persona, one that was much less complicated for Shadow to deal with analyzing, yet disappointment hit the ebony hedgehog all the same.

                  “Wow, rude ! Sorry if you don’t have enough of an acquired taste for my super awesome cool dude lifestyle. Didn’t realize you were such a tasteless man , faker!”

      Shadow shook his head, getting up from the bed and picking up his phone, looking through the different kinds of food places he could order from for Sonic’s address. He sat down in the desktop chair, propping his legs up and crossing them on the desk as if he owned the whole entire room now, despite being nervous and reluctant to stay not only a few moments prior.

            “ Hmph , you’re right. My taste must really be horrid, if I’m acquainted with you . Plus, faker ? Hah ! You’re the fake hedgehog around here. You’re comparing yourself to me ? You’re not even good enough to be my fake!”

      Suddenly, Shadow had to narrowly dodge being rammed into a full computer set up, instead clattering to the ground a few feet away from the now overturn desk chair. Sonic was there, looking devilishly ruffled and ready to pounce again, just as he did before. Shadow couldn’t believe it, and yet he should, that Sonic of all people would choose to rough house in a room full of fragile equipment covering every wall immediately after his pseudo-breakdown.

                  “I’ll make you eat those words! And like HELL you’re going to pick some dumb food place for dinner! My house, my address, my choices in food!” 

      Again, another expert dodge. Realizing he came even closer to falling into something that looked fragile, Shadow grabbed the door handle and quickly dipped into the hallway to run towards the living room, trying to quickly assess the choices on his phone. He didn’t have time to try and choose a place to order from for long before Sonic was out of his room and trying to tackle into him again.

                  “Wow, didn’t think you’d be the one to run away, Shads. Do I smell a fake hedgehog in here? I could’ve sworn I showered recently, so the only one who could smell that bad has to be y- A HMPHMM!!!!

      Sonic was cut off by a couch cushion being thrown to his face, effectively helping Shadow dodge another attempt at the blue hedgehog grabbing his phone from him. Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, he couldn’t help but smirk at the over dramatic way the other threw the couch cushion aside and got into a battle ready stance, as though he was about to face off against his arch rival. Rage burned in those emerald eyes now, fueling Shadow onward.

      Of all the things Shadow hated admitting, he could easily admit one thing.

            He could happily do this all night.

Chapter Text

      The smell of damp rain in a humid forest was the first thing Shadow’s nose picked up. It was such a soft, comforting smell, and strangely it made the heat wracking his body all the more pleasant. Nuzzling further into the source of smell, he felt his face prickle. Did he need to trim again? Surely, the fur on his muzzle couldn’t be more than the usual stubble. Groaning, he leaned his nose out of the sensation that gently scratched his cheek, and pressed his muzzle against something warm and soft.

      Like a thin veil of velvet, but tiny in size and triangular in shape, sturdy but flexible. It flickered against his nose, making it tickle unpleasantly. With another soft groan, he leaned away from the pleasant scent to rub at his eye. However, as he retracted his arm to do so, he realized his fingers brushed against soft stubbly fur and skin that wasn’t his own. Just as he began rolling away from the heat, he felt resistance on the arm that he wasn’t using, as if a weight was pressing it down.

      Before his eyes opened fully, a familiar voice spoke up, but instead of the normal cheery tone he normally heard it in, it was just as groggy. It had the faint sound of a purr to it, drawing him back to exactly where he was. 

                “Hm... mornin, sunshine.”

      Shadow opened his eyes to watch Sonic roll over to face him, still very much keeping his arm trapped under his head. He could easily say his arm fell asleep, or that he needed to use the bathroom, to escape this awkward moment of waking up. He knew he should’ve just gotten up last night to sleep on the couch, instead of trying to stay up and wait for Sonic to come back from his shower. Being found spooning the other hedgehog would have never happened if he was more careful-

      All those thoughts seemed to fade into oblivion when Sonic’s hand began inching up his shirt. His breath caught in his throat when the second hand joined, both of them carding through the fur on his chest. It was slow, hesitant, fleeting movements - just like the look in the blue hedgehog’s eyes. Like a feeling of wanting, but not exactly knowing how to ask for it, so he was grasping onto whatever it was he could hold onto in order to convey his need.

     Something about the action made Shadow snap, like a thinly wrung wire that had been bound to break at some point from the weight of emerald eyes. It was a matter of seconds before the ebony hedgehog’s hand ran through Sonic’s quills, pulling him deeper into the kiss he’s been trying to take for a while now, but couldn’t find a logical reason for doing so.

     Logic was out the window in about as much time it took to take a breath of air between kisses, when that usually bright toned voice groaned beautifully as their lips parted again and again. The sound the blue hedgehog made was priceless, laced with a trembling breath. One of exigencies, as if Shadow was somehow satiating an animalistic hunger inside of him as their lips pressed again, and again, and again, and again. The ebony hedgehog couldn’t get enough of it, not caring if he’s never kissed before - not caring if he had no idea how to do it properly or if he was even doing okay at it - not when he needed more of it, had to have more of it, and now .

     When Sonic’s leg wrapped over his hip, he took it as an invitation to slip his own between his bedmate’s thighs, earning him another stifled noise. Breaking the kiss for another momentary breath, Shadow swiftly pulled his arm from under Sonic’s head to prop himself up on his elbow. His hand gripped the quills under Sonic’s head as the other descended to grasp at the blue hedgehog’s side and hip. Was he doing this right? Was this really okay? Was he really allowed to do this? Was this normal?

      It was all happening so fast, Shadow wasn’t even sure of what he was doing as he grinded down to get more friction from the blue hedgehog, just that he had to do it in order to not go fucking insane. It elicited the results he wanted from Sonic, who seemed to be more than vocal in his pleasure. The ebony hedgehog’s head was a dull thrum at this point from the alluring sound, his attention fully focused on the way both their bodies were reacting. The way the other’s head fell back against the pillows seemingly in bliss. 

      God he’s never seen anything more beautiful, and it confused the everloving hell out of him. What the fuck has gotten into him? When he felt Sonic’s heel dig into his ass to push him further into their thrusts against each other, both of them eagerly trying to feel friction, their lips crashed together again simply for the purpose of Shadow trying to muffle his own frazzled moaning. It effectively muffled all his thoughts, too, banishing any and all feverish contemplation in favor of feeling the hedgehog beneath him trembling in desire.

      Sonic’s peach hands grasped frantically to push away the fabric of his shirt, which the ebony hedgehog quickly complied with. The moment their bare chests brushed together, a delightful shudder raked it’s way through the blue hedgehog’s body, causing him to arch more into the heat. With heavy inexperience, Shadow mouthed at his neck and chest, trying to cause the other to make more noise. Any noise, as long as it was his voice, Shadow wanted more, more, more, more.

      To keep hearing him nearly squeak in pleasure, as he felt those peach hands quickly unbuttoning his jeans. He could feel how badly Sonic wanted him, his hips rolling up to meet his own now that there was more bare friction to work with, nothing between their cocks brushing together. No layers, no hiding, just purely hungry for more, more, so much more that Shadow couldn’t even think . An overwhelming need for more, everything that Sonic could give or offer him he wanted it. He’s never wanted something more in his life, it was excruciating .

      In a particularly rough rutting of hips, Sonic’s mouth opened in a gasp of pleasure, which Shadow eagerly seized the opportunity of. As he ran his tongue experimentally inside of the hedgehog’s mouth, reveling in the way the way Sonic was squirming, his hand began traveling lower. Running past his hip, near his tail, along the side of his thigh. So rounded, yet lined with fine, hardened muscle. A healthy amount of weight clung to Sonic just as lust clung heavily on Shadow’s quills in the form of shudders and sharp exhales.

      He groped at the thickness of muscle he found there, pushing the leg up further to rest higher on his own hip, using the grip on it as leverage to rut their cocks together faster. The grip on his quills was tightened considerably, as Sonic’s head fell further back, a loud keening noise escaping his lips with the arch of his back.

      When the blue hedgehog spoke up, it was breathless and a mess of stutters. Absolutely breathtaking, stunningly so, tantalizing beyond belief. He’s never heard anything more addicting than the sound of this voice beneath him right here and now. If he could pick a favorite sound, it would be this one. 

                  “F- Fuuuhh- ... p-p-please Sha.. Shad… Shad - h-h-h-harderrrr! S-so… so clo- so close, so close!

      Shadow didn’t have to be told twice as he rolled his hips downward as roughly as he could at this angle, the grip Sonic had on his quills yanking enough to likely pull several of them out. The thought was barely even there, though, as his nose found purchase in the nook of Sonic’s neck once more. Feeling that familiar pooling in his lower abdomen, he tried to muffle his own moans by placing more hasty open mouthed kisses along the blue hedgehog’s neck. He attempted to move his mouth wherever it could reach from this position, reveling in the feeling of peach shoulders and thin fur- 

      That was apparently enough to push Sonic to the edge, throwing his head to the other side and pressing Shadow’s face further into his neck as he loudly came. The hand on Sonic’s thigh moved to stroke the last bits of his orgasm out, coincidentally helping the ebony hedgehog finally reach his own. Shadow groaned deep and curt, trying not to tapper it off with a whimper of pleasure at he added his own cum on top of the tan, soft fur-stubbled skin of Sonic’s abdomen and chest. Breathlessly, wordlessly, they panted heavily as they both laid there in the messy afterglow.

      It happened so fast, too fast, that all of it barely registered. He didn’t even remember pushing their pants down so far, too invested in making Sonic’s voice reach that lower pitch he’s never heard from the other up until this point. The way he cooed as he came was still buzzing around in his head, the high pitch of it so different from the depthful purrs their sexual encounter began with. Intoxicating, and even in his clearly tired out state, he wanted nothing but to hear more of it. To hear every possible sound the hedgehog could make. Drink it in, commit it to memory, listen to it again and again like a broken record on repeat.

      It was only then that Shadow realized what he had just done in the heat of the moment, feeling incredible embarrassment over the whole situation. They had barely uttered anything to each other before their hands - and hips - were all over one another. That was incredibly unlike him, in every single way coherently possible. What would his father say if he knew he partook in such a mindless, senseless endeavor? The heat of shame on his muzzle grew further as he rested his forehead against Sonic’s shoulder, swallowing in order to try and find something to say. 

      After-sex conversation was never something that came up in therapy, and for good reason. He didn’t often partake in sexual encounters, nonetheless ones that involved going at it without proper follow up procedure. Procedures that he remembered never being taught for relationships between men, simply because his father always assumed he’d end up with a nice, lovely young lady. One that he’d marry or want to marry, before delving into these risky endeavors that lovers often took. Certainly, they were breaking several different levels of etiquette here, but as he struggled to find the words for the context they were in, he heard a distant familiar buzzing noise. 

      When Shadow pulled away, he noted faintly how dazed the blue hedgehog seemed, as well as the soft squeak he made in protest to him moving away. The way his now chaotic bedhead of quills spilled over the mattress and onto the star-coated sheets of his own bed was a sight the ebony hedgehog could never forget, yet he wanted nothing more than to forget it. Shadow was being regarded with the neediest face he’s ever seen a mobian make, as if begging him to come closer again. 

      The urge to do so was tempting, to forget his inner shame once more and any resolve that may come from it, to press kisses along his chin and neck. To forget what he thought he needed to forget and instead indulge in the heavy attraction he was just now realizing he had for the other. To kick every thought of societal pressure, or his father’s wishes for him to get married to a proper, dazzling, mature woman. Just to lean in and kiss him again and again, more and more - but the buzzing that had stopped momentarily began once again.

      He furrowed his eye ridges as he reached around in the pillows to find the source of the buzzing. Finding it under one of Sonic’s many pillows, he picked up without looking away from Sonic’s face. Desperate for some form of comprehensible emotion in green eyes to appear and tell him what the hell that was all about, as he pushed the phone against his ear. 

            “.... Hello.”

      The sound of a relieved bat escaped from the other end, her voice seeming to be out of breath. As Shadow looked down at Sonic, he waited for her expected tangent. It never came.

            “Rouge?”

      Sonic’s ear flickered, the blue hedgehog’s eyes seeming a little less dazed now as the ebony hedgehog sat up fully. The bat on the other end of the phone chuckled brokenly, which only concerned Shadow even more. 

                      “Sorry, s-sorry. I’m- I’m okay. Can you pick me some pain meds up on your - your way h-home, Shabbow?”

      The hedgehog cringed, immediately picking up on her ‘drunk’ voice.

            “Yes, I can do that. Give me a moment.”

       He pushed himself away from Sonic and sighed in exasperation, running his hand over his face. After taking a moment to compose himself, he looked at the blue hedgehog.

             “May I use your bathroom, faker?”

      Sonic hummed, nodding, not moving from his position as his leg slumped back onto the mattress fully. Shadow took that as his invitation to get up off the bed, making his way to the bathroom. Once inside, he tried to juggle having the phone pressed to his ear as well as getting a washcloth to clean any remnants he might’ve gotten on himself. Thankfully, the majority of it seemed to get on Sonic, which meant he didn’t have to rub at his fur for too long. He didn’t bother even shutting the door at this point, either, Sonic saw - or well felt - just about anything and everything embarrassing between them already this morning.

      As if on cue with his thoughts, Sonic slipped in past him, proving him wrong by being fully naked. Shadow stared incredulously at the lack of humiliation the other seemed to have, as well as the fact that he just hopped in the shower without another word to the other. Swallowing hard at the strange trembling of nerves and attraction he felt - which he was still trying to grow accustomed to and understand fully - he grabbed the phone again now that his fur was less sticky, trying to speak. 

            “Should I pick up some cream for your wing, as well?”

      Rouge seemed to hum on the other side, but a broken sound came out of her voice. Shadow couldn’t tell if it was a hiccup or a suppressed sob, so he turned towards the door of the bathroom, pushing out of it, all the while whispering. He could feel the tension in his face from furrowing his eye ridges growing painfully by the second, worry accidentally etching into his tone.

            “Look, give me 15 minutes. Just hang in there, okay? Don’t worry, I’ll be there. I’m right here.”

      The bat hummed again, this time sounding a little more soothed. The ebony hedgehog debated whether he should continue talking to her a bit longer, or to focus on getting ready, but after not hearing any words from her for two more minutes he sighed.

            “I’ll be right there, don’t worry. I’ve got this, we’ve got this. I’ll go get your meds and come straight home, okay? Just hang tight, Rouge.”

      After hanging up, Shadow rubbed his face more, and turned to look in Sonic’s kitchen for anything caffeinated. Yeah, his therapist told him to quit drinking caffeine in the mornings because it worsened his anxiety. Yeah, it really wasn’t smart of him to be dependent on a substance to keep his body going on harsher mornings. Yet when he saw the energy drink sitting in the fridge, he without remorse opened it and chugged it down. He’ll regret drinking it on an empty stomach later, but his mind was scattered in several different places right now. Old habits die hard, don’t they? 

      Once he got into the room, he went to pull his sweater and jacket on, trying to get himself all warm and situated before going out into the cold. He took a look on his phone, pausing in his movements towards the living room. His eyes looked up from the phone to look out the window, noticing how high the sun in the sky was, during the winter season. Once again, he stared back down at his phone in shock and disbelief, feeling absolutely breathless, possibly more so than when he was so frantically touching every inch of Sonic he could reach.

      13:43. Without even a second thought, his thumb opened up his messenger with the faker, and scrolled up to look at when the hedgehog messaged him everyday. This confirmed his theory, and it was not at all a victorious confirmation. He felt his eye twitching and lips pulling more and more into a scowl. This was the exact kind of thing he was trying to prevent. He can not, will not, sync his schedule up with someone who woke up in the afternoon every day. He can’t let himself slip like that, he refuses. 

      In fact, how many push ups is he going to have to do later, since he didn’t have time to start them now? He’s overslept his internal clock of 05:00 before, but never more than half an hour. This was a whole 8 hours or more. Normally the punishment for oversleeping would be 25, but he also…. Partook in activities with Sonic, which were not right of him to do. So 50? Double that twice to a 100 for being a full hour, times 8? Shadow dreaded having to do 800 push ups, knowing his arms would feel weak having to do that many all at once with no breaks or intervals, but if that was the punishment…. If that’s what his father would have wanted of him for sleeping in so late, and with a man of all things….

      Yet, despite this, he still waited in the living room where he stood, stalling. Why stall? He had to get the medication, help Rouge with her wing and drunken state, had to do his push ups, and yet he stalled. The conversation was going to be awkward - but he’d feel bad just texting the faker that he’d have to go. Why’d he even feel bad, anyways? Was it this pesky, annoying pseudo-bond they’ve been creating? He tried to think of a more logical reason - there had to be a reason why he’d feel guilt over it other than something as stupid as emotional attachment. Like for example, wasn’t it basically notoriously horrible to text someone important details, without giving them the courtesy of face to face excuses? Rouge wouldn’t forgive him if he stood Sonic up like that, especially after such an intimate moment… 

      His mind flashed to the image of Sonic looking desperate to be close to him again when Shadow had pulled away earlier. He’s… Never seen an expression more vulnerable in anyone, ever. Not even Rouge. However, his mind supplied a whole other possibility, that maybe it wasn’t that he’s never seen vulnerability, but he chose not to see it. The fact that both of them were in such a vulnerable position shook the ebony hedgehog to his core, the fact that he had let his guard down so much he was feeling things again. 

      Illogical, without a purpose, feelings. The thought should sicken and disgust him, but it didn’t. It made him nervous, it made him feel exposed, it gave him a rush of being painfully alive. He had looked down upon Sonic’s face, and instead of seeing a blank slate like any regular face, he saw an emotion. He read an emotion. He paid such close attention to Sonic’s body language, instead of trying to block the world out in fear of feeling things others felt. 

      He hadn’t been emotionally numb to the expressions and body language of others, instead paying clear attention to them - when was the last time Shadow has done that with anyone? Opened himself up empathetically to truly try and get to know someone, instead of instinctively judging them like the cover of a book?

      He didn’t have to do that with Rouge. He already knew how she felt about things, already knew of her past, already opened his heart up to her on several occasions. He didn’t have to feel her feelings as often, they were just a dull buzz. Barely there, but known about, cared about. If he kept himself open all the time, it would be counterproductive to helping her with said issues. Yet, he was standing here, stalling. Stalling for time, to what? Get one more glimpse of what Sonic was feeling?

      The ebony hedgehog heard the white noise of the shower turn off in the background, and he sighed his nerves away, trying to smooth his quills quickly and nervously to look less frayed. What was wrong with him? So what if his quills were out of order, he’s not going to be out of the house much longer anyways. He shouldn’t be such a fucking wreck over one sexual encounter - which was never going to happen again, likely. Why would it? They weren’t even supposed to be friends but- but they were , weren’t they? The words ‘friends with benefits’ stung harshly in his mind, and Shadow immediately shook that away as quickly as he could, feeling disgust at himself for even questioning or thinking about it. 

      His father would’ve... accepted him being into men at some point, he’s sure of it, but he never would have accepted him being intimate with someone other than the person he’d plan to wed one day. It was heavily inappropriate, and absolutely against his viewpoints as a hedgehog - or at least, it was against his father’s viewpoints - so shouldn’t his viewpoints be his viewpoints, too?

      No, this wasn’t going to happen again. It couldn’t happen again. He couldn’t spend the night again, not if he was going to unconsciously sync his sleeping up with the blue hedgehog’s. 800 push ups was a worthy punishment, but he didn’t want to risk having to repeat said punishment ever again. This wasn’t supposed to happen - if it had never rained, if Sonic never hummed in such an alluring way- and that voice, that moaned like that for him- 

      When the bathroom door opened, Shadow whipped his head around and watched the blue hedgehog walk down the hall to his bedroom with a towel around his waist. Sure, the ebony hedgehog could follow him and just poke his head in and say he’s leaving, but he wasn’t on that level of intimacy with Sonic, was he? He looked down at his phone, realizing it’s already been 10 minutes, and cursed himself. If he spent any more time here, he’d be wasting time, and he really needed to get home to Rouge before she did anything drastic-

                  “You… Stayed?”

      Shadow looked up from his phone, to see Sonic standing there in nothing but fuzzy pajama pants. His quills still mildly dripped from water, sleeking up the look of his fur - like the ocean, so incredibly blue in it’s messy waves. The look was oddly cute, even though it shouldn’t be. He should be thinking about how immature fuzzy pj pants were, not that they looked warm and comfy on the other. Or how not drying your quills properly makes for easier tangles, and if done repeatedly, would cause the same constant fraying quills he often saw poking out every which way like a hot mess on the blue hedgehog. 

      His thoughts, once again, were betraying him and all logic. He literally just had a sexual encounter with the other, but his hands itched to feel the fabric of those pajama bottoms, to show him how proper quill care way actually done. He should be ashamed of himself for losing even an ounce of his resolve at the sight, and he was. Shadow absolutely felt nothing but immense shame at this point, and it was growing the longer he stood there looking at him. 

            “... Not for long, Rouge needs her meds. I don’t have time to stick around, today.”

      Sonic began rubbing the back of his neck and chuckling nervously. The blue hedgehog was as awkward as Shadow expected of him, except it wasn’t for the reason he thought it would be, as he heard the other muttering so low it was nearly inaudible from this distance.

                  “They don’t.. They don’t normally uh... normally uh…. Stay, uh…”

      That shouldn’t have done what it did to his chest. It felt like a stabbing pain and a feeling of betrayal, but it absolutely shouldn’t have been. It was obvious, Sonic probably did this often, while he was here being the complete awkward virgin he was. Of, fucking, course. This wasn’t special, it was just another transaction. Why should he be surprised? Before he could stop himself, his mouth moved for him.

            “You do this often, then.”

      Embarrassment seemed to paint the blue hedgehog’s muzzle as he sputtered, trying to move his hands in a way that seemed like he was denying it, but as he opened his mouth, the words just didn’t seem to come out. It was obvious that whatever Sonic was trying to deny, it wasn’t something that could be denied. Shadow huffed, rolling his eyes and turning to leave, before he felt two hands grabbing his forearm.

                  “DON’T! Don’t- D-don’t- I- I didn’t- I didn’t lea- I mean don’ ‘n not- I mean… Didn’ mea-n …. Don’...”

      Gripping his phone harshly, he tried to stay calm as he listened to Sonic stumble over his words. Slowly, he turned to face the other, and watched as the blue hedgehog refused to look at him. He watched as peach hands retracted from his forearm and began fiddling with his own fingers. The other wouldn’t look at him this point, but he radiated nervousness. Shadow was growing impatient so he squeezed his eyes and grit out his own words.

            “ Spit it out, faker. I’m already late.” 

      This, apparently, was not the appropriate wording, and certainly not the right thing to say in this situation. Shadow opened his eyes in time to see Sonic’s own pinched expression of pain, as he hugged himself in his own arms. What was it with this hedgehog and making him feel things he’d rather not be feeling? There was nothing Shadow should be feeling guilty about - or well, not right this second. He should be feeling guilty about a million things, like the sexual encounter he didn’t think through properly and his father would’ve scolded him on, but not this. 

      With a sigh, he lifted his phone up and unlocked it, taking Sonic’s hand and putting it in it. The blue hedgehog’s ears perked up as he stared at the phone, and then to Shadow in confusion, before realization seemed to dawn on his face. Without saying anything else, he pressed his thumb on the message box to their text messages, typing a simple phrase out. When the blue hedgehog handed the phone back, Shadow looked over it.

                  ‘ sorry call me later ok? ‘ 

      The ebony hedgehog sighed, his shoulders slumping in defeat as he looked up at the other hedgehog. The blue hedgehog sheepishly smiled, but his face still held so much tension that looked like it didn’t belong there. There wasn’t a necessary need to fight this, but he thought it would be obvious they’d call later. They’ve done so often, it wasn’t like the other would give up bugging him that easily, right? This wasn’t just a one and done deal kind of friendship, otherwise Sonic wouldn’t have so persistently spoke to him. It wasn’t… Sonic wasn’t like that, the ebony hedgehog tried to reassure himself.

      Shadow simply nodded, although he wondered if it was truly alright to be agreeing to this. Not when he’s already got so much to punish himself over. It would’ve been better if Sonic was like that, right? To just pursue him just for a good time, then dump him and leave him to his pathetic self disciplinary techniques dealt out by the imaginary scenarios of a dead man.

            “Sure.”

      The tension from Sonic’s face seemed to melt considerably at that, the smile turning much more genuine. He held up a pinky and Shadow rolled his eyes, holding his own up and twisting it around Sonic’s. It shouldn’t tug at his heart so much to see those emerald eyes light up with child-like wonder. It was cruel. Everything about this moment was cruel and painful. Shadow knew he wasn’t special, but by fucking God, was Sonic so goddamn special. It was painful how special he was. It boiled at his core painfully, a harsh contrast to the pleasant coiling it was doing earlier. 

      When their pinkies stopped intertwining, Shadow simply nodded again and left the way he came. He noted how Sonic popped his head out of the window to watch him go with a wave, but Shadow didn’t do much more than revv up his engine and sped out of the junk pile Sonic called a backyard. The ebony hedgehog was plagued by the fact that all Sonic had to do was make that sad face, and he relented. It was a simple enough task to call him, but he shouldn’t have made that promise - he knew he couldn’t break it. He never wanted to break a promise again.

      Did he even want to break it? Shadow felt like he should, that he shouldn’t feel obligated to call someone who obviously didn’t feel anything more than sexual attraction to him. This was just all sorts of messed up, and it was going to eat away at him. What were they even doing? Why were they even doing it? What was the purpose, to just feel a few fragments of pleasure? It was stupid. It was idiotic. There was no point in the way he so desperately craved this.

      The ebony hedgehog barely even noticed he was already in the store picking up Rouge’s medication. He barely registered the lady at the counter talking to him as he began purchasing the items. He spoke to the cashier politely, but he didn’t even remember why the woman was warmly smiling at this point, all it was doing was reminding him more and more of Sonic. His mind was a disaster of feelings and thoughts he couldn’t process, spiraling rapidly down towards the planet - like free falling, but the friction and heat of the atmosphere hit him, and the emotions were burning him alive. 

            What would his family think of what he’s become, now? Would they even recognize him, at this point? Did he even want them to, or would he feel too ashamed to even look them in the eye? 

      This was bad, this was really bad. All of this was horribly, horribly bad. He shouldn’t of left Rouge waiting, he shouldn’t have ever stopped to talk to Sonic. What was wrong with him? Why did his chest feel so bad every time he thought of the way the blue hedgehog looked this morning? Struggling to pull him back into him when Rouge called, or the way he looked when he realized Shadow was still there, or the struggle to talk. The struggle to talk…. 

                 ‘You know, I understand what those grunts of your’s mean. I used to be mute as a kid, for example, so like. If you want honesty hour, I’ll be the first to admit I get it.’ 

      Shadow stopped where he was in the middle of the parking lot, feeling his eyes widen a fraction. How could he have been so stupid? Of course, Sonic didn’t stand up for himself, he was struggling to speak. Great, that meant he did have things to feel guilty about. He just stood there assuming the blue hedgehog was treating him as a one-time thing, and yet it likely was the exact opposite. They never stayed, because maybe they thought Sonic was the one-time thing. 

      Anger boiled inside of him as he hopped onto his motorcycle, tying the pharmacy bag to his wrist and turning on his engine once more. What fucking fool would think Sonic The Hedgehog was someone you could just dine and dash on? The thought made him sick. He hoped it was his mind jumping to conclusions and Sonic, in fact, just had random mutually casual encounters with people. There was nothing wrong with that, right? 

      God, why had he even felt upset in the first place if that was the case, anyways? Shouldn’t he be sympathetic towards his friends? Shouldn’t people be free to do what they choose with their lives, especially their sexuality? This was the first person he had truly connected with in a long time, and what, he wanted to try and be the only special one who had a sexual history with Sonic? Shadow growled under his breath as he stepped on the speed, trying to clear his head as best as he could, as he finally dipped out of the city and onto the backroads.

      Ridiculous. This made him no better than that shitty echidna. He supposes it is a little different, since Rouge still considered herself a virgin, but still. Even if she did sleep around with people like people assumed of her, too, it’s not like the echidna is making anything official. How could she not feel unwanted? Shadow halted his own thought process, though, and realized that maybe he felt more like Rouge than he probably did the echidna? 

      That thought felt sour in his mouth. Him, feeling unwanted? Unlikely. The thought was ridiculous, just as every other thought he’s had this morning was. Sonic obviously wanted him, it was evident in the fact they had done that in the first place. Sonic just didn’t want him more than anything but sexually, and that should be okay, right? Right… Except not. None of this was right, it was all wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Everything was being absolute horseshit and wrong, not making any coherent sense.

      As Shadow came up towards the house, he slowed down and used one hand to unlock the garage door. As it came up, he slid inside and parked his prized possession. 

      The ebony hedgehog took a few moments to take deep breaths, trying to steel himself and his nerves. If he waltzed over to Rouge with all this chaos formulating in his mind, he’d be no help to her at all. He did a quick check of his body, making sure everything felt there, from the tips of his ears to his toes. Having an episode would also be counterproductive, so he had to make sure he was mentally prepared for whatever breakdown the bat was having.

      Once he felt safe enough to do so, he climbed off his motorcycle and made his way to the garage door. He didn’t have time to organize the hectic feelings he felt, he could just simply try and file them away later. Categorize them as best as he could, and forget about them until the moment he felt them again. 

      Right now, it was Rouge’s time. He could do this. With another deep breath, he opened the garage door and peeked his head out, scanning the surrounding area. Strange, there was no sight of Rouge in the living room or their small kitchen. Normally that was where she drank most prominently. It was quiet, it was so quiet. He hated it, he wanted the quiet to go away - it should not be that quiet in a house with two people living in it. Living... Paranoia began to seep into his veins as he rushed down the hall to her room, opening the door frantically.

      What he saw was a disaster, several objects had been scattered about in a frenzy. Like she had started ravishing everything she could find. He took note of the suitcase that was laid on her bed, but it wasn’t properly packed, only a few items here and there thrown into it. Likely due to the fact her intention wasn’t to actually leave, but in her panic induced state, she thought she would. Several feelings coiled inside of Shadow as he took a deep, shaking breath. He was trying not to panic, but he could feel it rising up and down his throat like bile.

           “Rouge?! Rouge, where are you, B?”

      The ebony hedgehog rushed down the hall, even opening his parents bedroom. Sometimes during her breakdowns she’d find comfort in the soft, warm bed. He checked the storage closet that Omega sometimes was in. 

           “Rouge, goddamnit this ISN’T funny! Don’t do this to me right now, come on! Just fucking talk to me! We can work this out- there’s other ways to-” 

     Just as he was about to rush outside to see if she was in her car, he heard a hiccuping sound. His ears twitched towards the sound, immediately backtracking, walking backwards and past his parent’s old bedroom. Like a movie going in reverse as he slowly took one step back at a time, trying to listen out for the source of the sound. The moment he was beside the bathroom door, he turned to face it, scowling. 

      Shadow could hear the sobbing from the other side of the door, and he apprehensively turned the knob, grateful that it was unlocked. The sight he saw was painful, but not a surprising one. He placed the prescription pain meds on the counter, pushing it off to the side before crouching beside her. With the alcohol in her system right now, she wouldn’t be able to take them right away, anyways. She needed water and to become more aware of what’s going on first, to ensure she wasn’t just going to puke it all back up. 

     She didn’t even look up at him, she just continued to ugly sob onto the toilet seat.

     Rouge was practically covering her guilt and shame with her arms, but the stench of vomit was too strong and she knew it. Her hand shakily reached to flush the toilet, hiding her pained face in her arm now. The several bottles of vodka littering the bathroom can’t be flushed down, though. It was obvious she felt ashamed of what she had done, so instead of scolding her for it, he simply just rested an arm around her mid-torso.

           “What happened, B? You... didn’t take anything, did you? Do I need to call an ambulance?” 

      The bat shook her head, and relief washed over him for a moment that she didn’t try and do the unthinkable. Rouge didn’t try and pry him off as he moved to wrap his other arm around her torso - It made her feel wanted, he knew that. She just wanted to feel wanted for once. Whenever she didn’t feel desired, she’d flee as fast as she could before her heart could get broken again. Rage began boiling inside of Shadow’s chest at the conclusion his brain came to, quills bristling up sharply at the very thought of it - 

            “It’s not the pain, is it? That’s not what any of this has been about the last few days. It’s that fucking echidna-”

      Rouge grabbed his hand and shook her head even more viciously, a silent sobbed breath escaping her. She finally was looking at him, and seeing her without makeup on and running mascara told him how long she’s been hunched over this toilet. The bottles already told him as much, but it didn’t hurt any less. He should’ve noticed how bad she’s gotten sooner

                 “It’s not his fault, I messed up. I really, really messed th-this one up, Sh-Shadow, I-” 

      The ebony hedgehog didn’t believe her. She was intoxicated and self deprecating, so he doubted she really knew what was or wasn’t actually her fault here. However, he just nodded and let his anger dissipate for now. He couldn’t be angry right now, she needed a supportive and calm friend right now. She needed her brother . The only family that ever treated her with some damn basic respect - and he wished that fucking echidna could take the hint to follow his example, even if it was a different type of relationship altogether. 

           “Tell me what happened, B.”

      She rested her head on his shoulder, and he petted through her hair in a way he hoped was comforting. He winced when he felt bits of her hair falling out in between his fingers. He glanced at it as she tried to keep herself from sobbing again, feeling that pit in his stomach again.

      She always made sure he ate dinner, but he hadn’t been doing the same. There was no way her hair would be falling out this much if she was taking care of herself up until tonight. Turmoil and guilt wrapped around his body as he rested his head onto her's, pulling her closer and tighter. He was so wrapped up in how erratic his mood has been lately, he didn’t think to check on her the way she always checked on him. 

                 ‘Funny, since I never heard of ya until three weeks ago. Where were you at all the other parties, huh? The ones where she needed someone?’

      As much as Shadow wanted to hate that annoying echidna, as much as he wanted to call him dumb and shirk anything he says off, he couldn’t. Shadow didn’t realize until now how right those words were. He always waited until she asked for help, but she never waited until he asked for help. Asking for help was hard, and he knew that better than anyone.

      Yet, he still ignored her for his own agony, and even worse, his newest fixations. Look where that got her, look what she’s done to herself now . He could’ve easily prevented this, and he’d apologize if he thought it would fix what’s happened. It won’t. It’ll just make her feel worse about herself. Guilty that she was taking up someone’s time and livelihood to listen to what ripped at her insides both literally and figuratively, leaving them barren and alone and starving for something to fill the void, just as she felt currently.

      To deny herself the food she knew she needed, by purging it out. Just as she pushes the help she needs away, or anything she needed - wanted - had to have. Shadow slumped a bit against the vanity as he listened to her sobs, looking aimlessly to the ceiling, trying to ground himself in this moment. He couldn’t emotionally disconnect now of all times, not when she needed him. Not when she was feeling so, so much pain. 

      Shadow swore he could feel it wrapping around in his own chest, constricting his arteries, making it hard to even take in breath. He closed his eyes and listened to her words, trying to reflect on how he could help, rather than the way her misery was suffocating him in grief and empathy for her. He wished he wasn’t feeling things right now, but he didn’t want to just shut it off - not when she needed it, not when she wanted someone to understand her or help her, even if she refused said help and understanding every chance she took. 

                “I wasn’t talking things out and- and I was trying to push him away and I- I said some really mean things, Shadow. I really hurt him this time, and- and those things? Things he didn’t deserve, he didn’t deserve it this time, Shadow. Him breaking up with me and never wanting to see me again, he’s right. I’m bad . I’m really getting really bad , Shadow. I really, really hurt people, I didn’t ever mean to- I didn’t ever mean to be bad- I didn’t ever mean to be bad, I don’t want to be bad - I don’t want to be a bad kid I- I- … Make the bad go away, Sha-Shadow... I want it to stop, I just want it all to stop.. Please make it stop…”

       The bat felt her emotions rising again like the contents of her stomach, and she clutched to his shirt, pulling herself closer in his arms to try and prevent her fit of gagging. She was grateful for his protective arms wrapping around her, so she could hide in his chest. She didn’t want to see the light of the bathroom right now, her eyes hurt enough. She didn’t want to see the light of the world, either. It didn’t make sense - nothing was good, or bright, or happy. She just wanted someone or something to know how that felt, to understand how she was feeling. No one ever seemed to understand anything she ever felt- 

                  “I’m no good, I keep trying to be good but I can’t be- How can I? I can’t treat others right, and I can’t- I can’t keep doing this, Shadow. I can’t keep doing this- I can’t keep doing this- I can’t keep- Doing this to myself and other people. I just wanted to feel loved, Shadow. I wanted someone to need me for once, not the other way around, I, I- I don’t want to need anyone! I just wanted to belong for once. But he doesn’t want me! He doesn’t want me…. I’m not good enough for him…”

      Her breathing was unstable as heavy tears rolled down her cheeks, and she couldn’t stop the string of drool that slipped down to her sweatpants, but at least she wasn’t getting it on Shadow. Her voice hiccuped painfully with sobs in between attempts not to begin gagging again. She’s cried enough, she’s done enough. She’s been enough of a burden on everyone, today. All she wanted was for people to stop worrying so much about her, and look what she’s done. She’s become the very thing everyone was worried about. Rouge didn’t want that, she wanted to be independent. 

      To be free , not selfish . She wanted to stop being a freeloader in everyone’s fucking life, she wanted to stop running away from the people she loved . She wanted to stop seeing their horrible and cruel faces in everyone she tried to be near. She wanted them to go away for good, never to come back. She didn’t want to see her parents ever, ever again. 

            “You’re better than you think, and relapses happen. I know you don’t want to hear that, but you’re enough , B. You’re not Rogue anymore - you’re not their fucking kid anymore, you’re Rouge . You’ve reclaimed your name, your life, your dignity, and the things that happened in the past is going to stay in the past . It doesn’t make it stop hurting, but… But you’re more than enough, Rouge. I need you just as much as you need me, ok?”

     What Shadow really wanted to say is fuck him, fuck that dumb stupid echidna and his damn fucking ignorant face. However, he couldn’t. He couldn’t blame Knuckles, not fully. The miscommunication was both sides, and just because she had a reason to be the way she was didn’t excuse it. Whatever she said must have been bad, if he had told her to leave and never come back. Even with how unstable their relationship has been over the past couple of years, he could tell how much they were smitten with each other, but... Shadow really wanted to beat the shit out of the echidna - and he would if he was here, but right now? He had his sobbing sister in his arms, and she hated herself more than anything in the world. 

      He wished she could just hate Knuckles instead, but she doesn’t. She loves him, and that hurts. Love was painful for people like them, but it didn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t ever have to be, but grief didn’t work like that. Trauma never worked in a way where it gave them the things they deserved. It just tears us all down, ripping us apart until our most vulnerable underbellies are gorged to the world. It makes us want to hide, so no one could see that. So no one could hurt them or be hurt by them ever, ever again.

                 “You wouldn’t be so supportive if you knew what I did, Shadow.”

      The ebony hedgehog shook his head, opening his mouth to speak, but stopped when a hand came to his mouth. He watched as she lifted her head and shook it. No? He furrowed his eye ridges, trying to figure out what she was trying to say, until it clicked. She wasn’t talking about something she did to Knuckles, she was talking about him specifically.

            “What did you do, Rouge?”

      She chewed her lip, looking a mixture of dizzy and guilty. Shadow tried not to let his worry and anger show up on the surface, but he wasn’t angry at her. He was scared, he didn’t want to know what she did, but he had to ask. He had to know what she did wrong this time, knowing it was probably just as bad as some of the impulsive things she’s done in the past.

                  “You promise you won’t get mad?”

      Shadow sighed at that, slumping his shoulders and leaning on the bathroom vanity behind him once again. He looked at her, truly looked at her, and realized she did lose some weight. He couldn’t be angry at her, not when she was like this. Not when she was this bad again.

            “I won’t excuse what you did, but I won’t be angry at you, either. Betrayal is something I don’t take lightly, you know this, you have seen my grudges towards you in the past Rouge - but I would never stay mad at you forever. Don’t mistake that as a pass, don’t mistake that for me saying you’re allowed to do things you are fully fucking aware are reckless or destructive. It doesn’t excuse shit, but I won’t… I won’t be mad, not at you. I don’t think I could ever, ever be mad at you, B. Not even if I tried my damned hardest.” 

      The bat looked like she didn’t believe him or trust him, and that hurt more than anything bad she could ever do to him. He rested his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes with as much gentle seriousness as he could muster.

            “I’d never take my anger out on you, Rouge. I haven’t done it in recent years, and you don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve people taking their frustrations out on you. If that echidna- if Knuckles could just get a handle on his anger issues, I doubt you’d even be pushing him away so much. I wish you’d reconsider your choices in men, but you love him. Love doesn’t make sense, but it’s still not right. It’s not right that you’re hurting each other emotionally with this miscommunication - and you need to just fucking talk it out. If you tell him everything and he’s still angry, and he still does this shit again? Then he’s not worth it, and he’s not worth you. Fucking ditch him as far as you can throw his dumb ass if he doesn’t change when you put in the effort to change.”

      The bat nodded weakly at that, and while she had a hard time believing it, Shadow could tell she trusted his input this time. She put her hands on his, taking them off her shoulder to hold. She looked down at them with guilt and pained eyes, before taking a deep breath.

                  “I took the last of your meds - Just the recommended dose, not, not anything meant for self harming… It was stupid, I know. I shouldn’t of, I know it’s dosed specifically for you, and I know it’s… I was starting to feel side effects and I just... I just-”

      She took a deep breath, trying to stop her trembling. She had no right to, she knew it, but she gripped his hands harder for support and comfort as she spoke. 

                   “I just wanted this all to stop, but I shouldn’t have done that? I’ve been doing it for weeks now, it’s why I kept deflecting your questions lately on whether you lost your other bottle or- or if you were accidentally taking too much somehow and- Your issues are just as bad as mine and I- I didn’t…. I tried to drink to drown it out, I wanted to forget how horrible of a person I am - I didn’t think when I did it at first but then I kept doing it, doing it consciously , over and over - and - and now you’re out of meds and I just- I just hated myself for doing that to you. I hate myself so much, Shadow. I don’t want to hate myself anymore, I want this all to stop .”

      The hedgehog stayed silent as she rested her head back on his shoulder, and Rouge hated it. She hated how she was seeking comfort when she just essentially told him ‘surprise! Your meds that stop the worst of your hallucinations, flashbacks and constant night terrors ran out !’ She did the worst thing possible to anyone, and he was probably so mad he couldn’t even speak. Yet she was leaning on him, anyways. She felt so stupid, so very stupid. She had hurt him when all he wanted to do was help her, she had tried to steal his meds when her of all people should know how painful living with PTSD was.

            “I get a refill next month. I’m not upset about that. What I’m upset about is that doctors won’t prescribe you stronger medication despite trying to write your chronic pain off as psychological. What I’m pissed about is that you’re hurting , and what I’m enraged about is that you didn’t ask me before taking them when I would’ve found you help, when we could’ve figured this out together.”

      Rouge felt Shadow’s arms around her tighten, his head leaning on her’s again. He was holding her like he was trying to protect her from some big, bad threat. Yet the both of them knew the only threat to her mental health was herself. This wasn’t Knuckles’ fault, this wasn’t his fault, it was her. Deep down, she knew she had to get better, she knew she had to try and get better. 

      Shadow was absolutely right, she needed to get help, why wouldn’t she just admit she needed help for once? Shadow was the only person in the world who was honest with her like this, while still holding her like she deserved every good thing she should name. He tore her down with blunt, painful honesty, while making her feel like she was queen of the world. Yet, she shut him out, once again. Didn’t she promise him the last time she would stop doing that? 

               “You... didn’t ask me for help with your bulimia, didn’t ask for help as your wing started to seize up, didn’t ask for me to comfort you the same way you always do for me . You want to talk about fucking insecure? Then you’re talking to the right person, Rouge. But I’m not upset at you, or my lack of meds. I’m upset with myself for not seeing this, but I know I can’t know things if you don’t tell me. Please, start talking to me about this before you end up - before you end dy-...”

      Rouge didn’t force him to finish that sentence, she already knew what he was trying to say. He’s said it to her in the past, when she overdosed on her old sleeping pills for insomnia - it’s why she doesn’t take them anymore, instead trying natural remedies, which were much better for her anyways. He said it once again when he found out about her on and off struggle with bulimia - and then once again when she became a chronic alcoholic. High school just wasn’t her year, now was it? 

      The bat nodded her head, feeling a few stray tears make their way down her face once more. It felt like all she’s been doing for hours was just crying out about every bad thing that’s ever happened to her, and yet the solution seemed so simple when Shadow talked about it. It wasn’t simple, though, was it? Just as she was about to open her mouth about how hypocritical it was of him to say all of this, about how many times he’s nearly left her because he unhealthily obsessed about death in every shape and form it existed in - he cut her off again. It has surprised her, not expecting him to express such a surge of emotions, knowing how much he struggled immensely at showing how much he felt.

             “We both suck at communicating, so we have to get better at this shit together, okay ? Please, just fucking say something next time. I won’t lie, you’ve betrayed my trust, but I’m…. I’m anything but mad, okay? Hurt, a little. But mad? Far from it. I don’t… Rouge, you’re ruining your body and health. I don’t… I don’t want you to essentially kill yourself over all of this. You need rehab, you need a therapist, you need medication, you need to tell me when it’s bad - I don’t want to make this about me, but you realize that if you… That if anything happened to you, I’d-...” 

      Shadow sat up and pulled her even closer, which caused her breath to hitch. She didn’t fight the tight protective embrace, though. Knuckles was right, she always waited for others to come save her, and when they didn’t she packed up and moved onto the next prince charming archetype. Would she ever stop looking for someone to save her from her past? She kept looking for people that desired her, needed her, but she wanted help just as much as anyone else. Yet she denied it, and look what it’s doing to her beloved brother. 

      Why did she always push those Prince Charmings away? Why had she pushed her older brother away? She nuzzled her muzzle into him and whimpered weakly, just wanting to listen to the logic and worry his words always came with. The loving wisdom as well as flames of emotion he always had inside, the type of emotions one would never expect from him, but she knew. She always knew of his big, soft heart, even if he had a hard time talking about it.

            “B, I just want to help you, okay? I think it’s time you went to therapy for this. I think it’s time I pull some strings and get you those pain meds. It’s time to change , we both do, you know? It’s... it’s never too late to change , you taught me that, and you helped me change too, for the better . You’ve recovered so much these last few years, you’re not the same person you were when you were 15. You’re not their prisoner anymore.

      The bat’s wings slumped along with her whole body, and she shakily breathed into his shoulder once more. She knew he was right, but hearing it wasn’t enough. Not when she was bound to the ground, not when there was a permanent reminder of where she came from strapped to her back like a pair of weights instead of the ticket to freedom they once were.

                  “I can’t even fly anymore, Shadow. It hurts too much, and on good days all I can do is a few feet gliding, maybe a bit more if I push, but it just hurts. It hurts so fucking much, I just want- I just want to be able to fly sky high again, to feel the breeze, to be me . I want to fly in the freedom, Shadow. To fly in the very definition of the word free- I want… I want to never be bound by this Earth, ever again.” 

      She tried to flap her wings as emphasis, but he put his hands on them to stop it, shaking his head.

            “Don’t strain them, you’ll injure them in your intoxicated state.”

      Nodding, she just slumped again, still feeling so incredibly dumb. Rouge felt helpless to fix all the things wrong with her, but Shadow was telling her it was possible . Shadow, the forever self-pessimistic, morally grey realist and cynic she knew and loved, saying it was possible . If anyone else told her that, she’d yell at them about how they’d never understand what it’s like to lose a part of yourself, especially to your past.

      She didn’t feel that way with Shadow. He understood painfully well what it was like to lose parts of yourself to the past, even if it wasn’t physical parts. The chunk missing at the base of her wing, in the shape of a hunting knife, was proof that what she lost that night was equal parts physical as psychological. 

            “You can feel free again, and you will fly again someday. If you can’t trust me saying that as a doctor, trust me saying that as your brother.” 

      It felt like lies, but she just nodded at him once more. If Shadow believed it, she believed it. Even if it didn’t feel possible, she trusted him to never lie to her. Not only was he a trained professional in a medical field where people lost limbs and sometimes their lives, he was also her brother, and the most honest person she’s ever met. Nothing he said could ever be false, she refused to think he could ever lie to her. Even when he faked things and hid behind walls, his eyes were honest and true, always being the genuine light of reason in her constantly confusing, dark life.

                  “Do you... think he’ll forgive me? I- I really didn’t mean to- I just… I had a flashback and I said something to him that was… Meant for someone else. It wasn’t meant for him, he’s not… I don’t think he’s stupid, or pathetic. I shouldn’t have put him down like that, I shouldn’t of… seen my father in him, when I know he’d never- He’d never do anything to hurt me. He’s not like that, he’s kind and sweet and sensitive, he’s only ever held me lovingly, not forcefully- not like- not like he did and- and all I did was- was make him cry and shutdown. He could barely talk to me, he looked… he looked so hurt, I didn’t know what to do, I don’t know how autism works, I- I-”

      Trying to take an evening breath, Rouge tried to wipe away the oncoming waterfall of tears at the memory of it. She’s been sobbing about this all morning, but admitting aloud what she did was even worse of an avalanche for her. Like suddenly all her wrongdoings were out for the world to see, and they were all mocking her for being the flightless bat with no sense of direction. 

      For being the cruel, heartless bitch who made the sweetest, nicest man cry. Sure, he had his rough edges, but he was anything but the things she said to him. He was nothing like her father, and she didn’t deserve him - she didn’t deserve such kindness from him, when all she ever has done is tear him down like this.

                  “I didn’t mean to- I really didn’t- I wasn’t there, in that moment. I wasn’t conscious of my words, I just felt … felt so cornered. I felt so, so cornered. I know he was worried, and he was trying to get me to- to tell him what was wrong, and I just… He didn’t say anything horrible, but he was just… He was so exasperated with me, and that tone of voice just brought me back to him …. I didn’t… I didn’t mean to say those horrible things, I was so…”

      Shadow rubbed her back as she took another shuddering breath, shaking her head in a frantic attempt to shake the thoughts pouring out of her. It didn’t work, it all came tumbling out, just the same.

                  “I was just so, so desperate to fight something, anything- Just, just-- just to feel less vulnerable and scared and I- He- He was right to tell me to get out. I don’t.... deserve to see him at his worst, or comfort him during his shutdown, if my first reaction to him seeing me at my worst is to scream at him like he’s my fucking father. Knuckie would never hit me, I should have never thought, in my mind, that he’d do that. I don’t know why I- I don’t know why I’d ever think he’d do that! I just…. I want… I want him to forgive me, but that’s selfish - It’s selfish for me to ask him to forgive him, when I said such awful things ...”

      Shadow sighed, leaning back on the vanity once more. He looked exaggerated at the mention of the dumb echidna, but not as pissed as she would have assumed he would be. In fact, there seemed to be a more understanding look to his eyes now that he was getting bits and pieces of the context. Like he could think a bit more clearly about his bias in this situation, now that he knew of the horrible thing she had done to mess up this time. 

      Sure, it wasn’t the full story, and it sounded like her self deprecative retelling of it, but he was sure the asshole didn’t do anything to truly cause all of this. Once again, his suspicions were confirmed that she was working herself up to this breakdown for a long while now. An inevitable crashing and burning to her failing system of coping mechanisms. 

      Her lack of guidance on how to pick up the pieces of her life with a broken wing, a past broken family, and many other broken attributes of her life. Knuckles was just a stupid fucking coincidence that put the icing on the cake, and he sadly had to witness the snapping point for himself. Likely, he was just as heartbroken, if not worse, than she was - considering he was the victim of her aggressive words and frantic attempts to fight back against an imaginary threat that didn’t exist any longer. 

            “If he knows what’s good for him, he better eventually forgive you . However, you’re right. He’s absolutely not obligated to forgive you, and you aren’t going to push him to. You aren’t going to force yourself in his life, if what you’ve done is truly unforgivable - otherwise you’d just be hurting him more. In fact, you should focus on getting the help you need before apologizing, as to ensure you’ll be less distrusting of him in the future. Once you’re a bit more stable, you can sit him down and be fully, completely honest with him. Tell him everything he needs to know, before you both can get serious with one another - and if you do get serious with each other, you know better to take things slow and not rush into anything… too intimate, for your trauma’s sake and his comfort, I’m sure.”

      It was hypocritical of him to mention not rushing into sexual endeavors, but he can only imagine what they were about to do before the bat had her breakdown. Likely, she was so eager to finally do something like that, convincing herself she was ready and saying she wanted to do it, just to get set off by it. He’s sure it must’ve been really confusing and terrifying to try and comfort her in that moment, to try and be loving or bring her back down from the fit she was having, just to have her tell him he wasn’t worth anything. 

      As much as Shadow hated the echidna, he could sympathize - if he wasn’t debriefed beforehand, if she rushed into it without actually feeling ready, if she just started screaming at him in the middle of a moment that was supposed to be intimate without any warning or explanation - it would make sense why the guy would fall apart over it. He was still on his sister’s side fully on this, but he had to admit that Knuckles’ reaction was warrantable in a situation where he had no idea what was going on, only that he was getting dragged through the mud like he was the worst trash in the world. 

      As Shadow speculated what exactly they could’ve been doing, or if he should ask her for more details on whether or not his theory on it being sexual was correct, he felt Rouge move to stand. She stumbled a bit, but managed without Shadow’s help. With determination in her eyes, she held her hand out. The ebony hedgehog just looked at it skeptically, and then her.

                  “Just trust me?”

      At that, his eyes softened, grabbing her hand. She hauled him up to his feet surprisingly well, and he gave her an approving smile. She beamed at him, feeling like she had finally proved herself to be somewhat as strong as him. If Shadow could pull her up after his breakdowns, so could she. It didn’t matter if she vomited everything she ate for the last month, it didn’t matter if she was still a bit intoxicated, and it didn’t matter if her wing hurt like a steamroller ran it over. She was stronger than this, she was stronger than all of this .

                  “From now on, it’s going to get better for us both , right Softie?”

      Shadow hummed, turning to look through Rouge’s makeup. The effort he was making to give her a boost warmed her core, and filled the artificial emptiness she had been creating inside of her this last month. The emptiness that was void of food, feeling, or security. As he began to run warm water on a washcloth, to help remove the mascara that still streaked down her face, he spoke up in a voice of confidence that he would not have had a year ago, let alone a few months ago. She knew exactly who to thank later for that, feeling a stab of warmth at the fact they’ve been getting along so well lately.

            “Of course. You run a nest of hornets, remember? This house wouldn’t dare fall apart when the Queen B runs it, constantly overlooking the hefty arsenal. Once Omega comes home, I’m sure he’d tell you the same, albeit begrudgingly. Now, we’re going to march out into that world and take it by storm, like we’re starting a fucking war with those jackasses - and they will yield for us, Rouge. The world will yield to us. We’re an unstoppable force - a team of sore losers who refuse to lose any longer.” 

      Rouge laughed for the first time that day, feeling the stony weight of her wings finally feel just a tad bit less heavy. Closing her eyes, she let Shadow wipe her crusted on makeup away gently, then drying her face and rubbing some skin care cream on her muzzle. He was always so adamant on hygiene, it was no wonder he rarely got pimples.

      It made her happy that instead of giving into the rage she knew he felt towards Knuckles, he prioritized her safety and mental state above all else. That what she wanted to do with her life, matter more than his need to protect her, and that he felt she was strong enough to handle herself in her own crumpling love life. It wasn’t Shadow who she truly had to worry about, though. Having two brothers was always a struggle, after all.

      She just hoped Omega wouldn’t go hunting for fresh echidna’s blood later that night, before she had a chance to talk some sense into him. A hunk of homicidal metal was far harder to hold back than her much smaller, bite sized gloomy hedgehog brother.

                  “Do you… know when he’ll be home, again? I honestly miss him, he’s been gone for so long for those repairs…”

      Shadow mused at her face and question, before grabbing her wrist to drag her down the hallway and into the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks the moment she noticed his parent’s bedroom open, though, which caused her to stumble a bit when Shadow kept on walking. He paused finally noticing what she was staring at.

                   “You… Went into their bedroom…?”

      The ebony hedgehog slowly let go of her wrist, and without looking into the room, blindly reached for the doorknob and shut it. Like simply gazing inside of it was the worst thing in the world, like he didn’t have the right to look at his own house’s room. No words were spoken between their eyes, as he promptly grabbed her wrist and kept walking. It wasn’t until they both reached the kitchen that he spoke up again.

            “I was looking for you, it’s not a big deal.” 

      Sitting down at the table, Rouge began to feel a headache setting behind her eyes. It was the hangover right before the hangover came, she was accustomed to this. A prequel to the horrors that are to come. 

                    “It is a big deal, hun… You-”

      Taking a deep breath, she slumped onto the table, resting her head onto her arm.

                     “My love life is in shambles, because I thought I could love before I got better - and sometimes it’s like that… Sometimes you have to prioritize your pain before your love life. But you? This, all of this? It’s really good for you.”

      When the ebony hedgehog placed the water in front of her, he immediately turned to walk back into the kitchen, putting toast in the toaster. She wondered if that was for him, or for her, or both.

            “It’s not good for me, Rouge. I overslept, I neglected you, I dissociated in the company of someone else other than you and I-” 

      Shadow ran a hand through his quills, before pressing a button on the coffee machine. The bat wanted to retaliate and tell him all the good things he’s been doing to progress lately, but the migraine in her head was just increasing at this point at the fight in his tone. 

            “I can’t expect other people to ‘fix’ this, Rouge. You know that.”

      The bat hummed, lifting her head up long enough to try and take a sip of her water. It burned going down from all the acid in her throat, but she ignored it in order to try and get something else inside of her body other than alcohol.

                      “He’s not gonna fix you, hun. That’s not how-”

      Pausing, Rouge’s eyes widened. Shadow took a peek at her, lifting an eye ridge at her shocked expression. He watched as the bat threw her head back, beginning to laugh.

                      “Oh- OH MY CHAOS! That’s… That’s exactly what- what Knuckles was trying to tell me earlier! Relationships aren’t SUPPOSED to be a fighting match on who needs one another it’s- it’s just… Oh my god. I’m sorry, I just, I just realized how STUPID I was being!” 

      She pressed her head to the table, setting her glass down sloppily as she weakly hit her fist on the table. Her laughs were beginning to sound like tearless sobs.

                      “Oh dear God of Chaos- Shadow, I’m so sorry for laughing but. We’re both so clueless, you know that? It’s… None of this is about trying to fix one another, or trying to be needed or need someone else, it’s…. It’s about genuinely loving someone, you know? You…”

      Rouge sighed, shaking her head.

                       “You deserve to feel love , even if you’re all messed up inside, you know?”

      The ebony hedgehog turned back to the coffee machine, refusing to look at her now. He hugged his arms around himself, crossing them in attempts to look indifferent all the while comforting himself. 

            “We are not in a relationship, Rouge. Nor are we in love. This isn’t anywhere near the same situation you and that echidna have with one another, so don’t equate the two.”

      The bat hummed, and he could feel her scrutinizing gaze from behind him.

                         “Oh really, now? Then what was that hickey I saw on your neck earlier in the bathroom, hmm?”

      Heat rose to his muzzle in an instance, beginning to touch his neck in attempts to hide anything that might still be showing. All of a sudden, the thought hit him like a freight train that, not only did Sonic not kiss his neck at all during that, but he was wearing a sweater and a leather jacket. His fur was also darker than Sonic’s, so if anything, the only marks that would show up would be on the other hedgehog’s, not his own. Shadow whipped his head around to glare daggers at the bat, who was now smirking far too smugly for someone who looked like she just crawled out of a grave.

                           “I can’t believe you always fall for that. Softie, you know I know you’ve got too much pent up sexual frustration involving Big Blue - What did you think was going to happen if you spent the night? What, you thought you’d just sleep on the couch, wake up in the morning, and leave without getting a little something something at least once?” 

      Frowning down at the counter, he gripped his forearms in thought, trying to scowl out the answers, possibly begging the marble finish of the platform in which he never cooks upon anymore to just tell him everything he wants to know. Shadow didn’t want to deflect her situation by thinking about his own, right now, even in the face of the taunting truth being thrown at him. It wasn’t right of him, and none of this would be resolved by talking it out with his drunken, yet somehow wise-ass, of a sister. 

            “I’d rather not speak of this until I contact my therapist, Rouge. It’s… This is complicated . It’s not as simple as saying we’re in a relationship, since we’re not. Not to mention I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have made a mistake , so early in our friendship like this.”

      Shadow sighed, rubbing the tension from his forehead with one of his hands.

            “I can’t deny that he’s leaving some sort of impact on my life already, but whether that impact is positive or negative is yet to be determined. Not to mention, things aren’t concrete or discussed between us. It’s better that I seek advice from my therapist before making any rash decisions on what truly constitutes a relationship here, as well. I believe I am being… awfully reckless and impulsive, about all of this. Which is unfair to me, as it is to Sonic. As annoying and childish as he can be, he has been nothing but kind to me, and I do not wish to take that for granted…” 

     The ebony hedgehog expected to be scolded for his pessimistic thinking, but instead he heard the chair at the table pull out of place, and within moments he felt his sister’s arms around his upper torso, pulling him in for a half-assed hug from behind.

                  “After you’re done figuring it all out, just let me know, okay? I want to hear all the details, every last bit, of how you pieced the puzzle together. I love a good realistic romance story, after all, Softie. Until then, though, I’m going to go take some of those pain meds, and take a long ass well deserved nap.”

     Shadow grabbed her arm before she began to walk away, and grabbed the plate of toast she hadn’t even noticed he had taken out of the toaster. He forced it into her hands, making sure both of her hands were firmly grasping it.

             “Eat this before you sleep. I’ll leave a gatorade on your dresser later when I come to check up on you. I’ll wake you up when it’s time for dinner, as well. Tomorrow at 0900, we’ll start looking into rehab and therapy for you.”

     After feeling lectured by her brother like she would be from her fucking boss, the bat watched as his face softened when she took the plate without argument. Shadow leaned in to give her a much softer hug than the tight, protective embraces he’s been giving her all night, and when they pulled away again, he gave her a small smile. It was rare to see him to show something so genuine, and once again Rouge felt herself breathlessly admiring her sibling’s ever expanding strength, in a world that has only ever wanted to see him dead. A world that’s only ever wanted to see them both dead.

              “We’ll get through this, Queen B.”

      Rouge nodded, hugging her brother one last time before stumbling to her room to get these dumb bread crumbs all over her bed, just to sleep in them. She hoped to remember to thank him more profusely later, and remind him how much he means to her. As she rounded the hallway to go to her room, however, she took another glance at his parent’s door with furrowed eye ridges.

            One of these days, maybe Shadow will finally recover enough to sort through ol' Father Robotnik's old belongings. Or at least talk about the night that’s constantly eating him alive endlessly.

Chapter Text

      All day, Sonic has been agonizing. December was just on the horizon, a week away, but he still had a ton to do before he could begin celebrating like his usual holiday cheer. Ever since college started, it felt like he hasn’t been able to let loose or do anything major - no thrill seeking, no running into danger at every foot, no adventures he could thrust himself into without thinking twice about it. Normally, people would say that’s a good thing. That he’s finally sobering up from his childish hell-bent anarchy ways, and moving onto bigger and better endeavours, like focusing on finding a career or life-long purpose.

      All it was to Sonic was painful, painful agony. The only reason why he began going to college was to make his little brother feel better about it, and even then the fox hardly needed him since he was with Cosmo. He’s been outsourced as an older brother, no matter which way you look at it. Depressed, he slumped against his kitchen counter, leaving his ham sandwich half-made beside him. What was even the point if he could just order take-out?

      Not that it mattered even then, what time was he trying to save? The hedgehog has been working on the same boring part of his game for days now, and he knew exactly why he was doing it. One, it distracted from finals coming up and the stress of him having to possibly write something for that - and two, it distracted him from thoughts about Shadow. If anything, the writing was probably the lesser of two evils here, as he groaned and hid his face in his arms.

      Sonic hadn’t had issues talking in years . Or more appropriately, he always has issues talking, he just never let it be so evident. He didn’t like people knowing he still stumbled here and there - or that sometimes when he’s just sitting there watching, he’s trying to rehearse exactly what words he’s gonna say. If he pretended it was like reading from a script, it was so much easier. It’s how he learned how to speak again, after all. If you read from a paper like a line in a play, it was so much easier to just perform it. 

      It was like singing songs, too. Except in music, you actually get to rehearse how you feel, rather than rehearse what you think you should say to make other people understand you better. No one has to struggle to understand music, they just listen and find their own meaning in the lyrics. To get lost in the beat, to sway your hips. The words of a song were nothing like the words you had to use to explain how you feel - they were feeling itself - and no one batted an eye or judged you for it. Instead, they just moved their bodies, wordlessly, sometimes mouthing along with you but still focusing on dancing or getting lost in the melody.

      Sonic hadn’t had issues talking in years, but Shadow the hedgehog, when he touched him it ignited so many emotions inside of him that he just wanted to dance. To sway his body to the beat, not giving a damn about context or words. It was confusing, it was aggravating, and it was not at all what he had planned. Okay sure, he wanted to get into the guys pants from day one - that was probably obvious to anyone who knew Sonic at this point, even Knuckles. He couldn’t even hide it anymore, he never shuts up about the guy. He wants Shadow, yet he didn’t want to like, just jump the guy with no warning or follow up like that. 

      Nothing ever truly worked out between him and the people he slept with, at least not without giving them so much as a breath of a warning. The blue hedgehog wouldn’t say he necessarily hated those past experiences, but they were horribly temporary and sort of regretted. They were finite. They held no coherent destination, and from the beginning all it was, was about getting off. Shadow wasn’t like that, though, was he? The blue hedgehog tried to rub at his face and chest to get rid of the flustered feeling in his body when he realized, no, Shadow was not at all like that.

      With Shadow he wanted to know the ebony hedgehog’s everything. It was more addicting than any cheap thrill he could be doing right now, and honestly it’s probably been helping him cope with college a whole lot better than he’d like to admit. Sonic had no fears or insecurities when it came to leaning on his friends, or even getting a bit touchy and affectionate, but with Shadow it was like everytime their bodies were near one another he couldn’t help but gravitate towards it. Like he wanted their bodies to melt or stick together with how close he wanted to be, and to never stop being that close, it was confusing as all hell.

      It didn’t help that Sonic had no idea what he wanted, stuck between ideas of what he could be feeling. They had just begun to become friends, but it felt like there were no bars between them. Like nothing was set in stone, and because of that, they had an easy time stepping over the invisible lines that separated their lives currently. Without those lines being drawn, clear for both of them to see, Sonic feared he might end up stepping into Shadow’s side of the court far too soon. An imaginary boundary placed that he didn’t want to break, in fear of hurting the other or just as badly, himself. The competitive analogy of a misdemeanor in tennis flashed before his mind, and he couldn’t help but snicker and shake his head. 

      Finishing up making his ham sandwich, he began eating it and wondering if he should just go out for a run. He glanced towards the window, watching the rain hit the glass, and wondered if it was ever going to stop raining. It’s felt like it’s been raining for ages now, almost every day since the time Shadow spent the night. He remembered just yesterday that he heard thunder, and felt chilled to his bones and uncomfortable. He hated being alone during storms, but then he remembered how Shadow reacted to them, and immediately felt the need to call him.

      It was so hard to resist calling the ebony hedgehog, not wanting to seem clingy or overly worried. He knew Shadow had Rouge, and he also knew he was strong and could take care of himself. Yet Sonic couldn’t stop thinking about it all the same, and he caved in and texted him some tutorials about flower pressing. It took awhile for Shadow to respond to the resources, but eventually he did, so Sonic considered it an accomplishment. He just hoped the distraction was enough to help him through whatever episode he was going through, since Sonic didn’t bother to ask about such an awkward subject. It would’ve been too prying, and he could already tell Shadow was like him in regards to people prying about the uncomfy darker stuff in his personal life.

      Sonic’s mind drifted back to what he wanted from the grumpy hedgehog, and felt himself frowning again, his momentary flower pressing victory wiped from his mind. Swallowing the last bite of his sandwich, he slumped against the kitchen counters, furrowing his eye ridges towards the farthest corner of his living room. That’s exactly where he stood when he first saw Shadow, and at the kitchen bar a few feet away from him once sat a pissy Shadow, facing the spot where Sonic currently stood. It felt weird to be thinking of that now, but maybe that could give him context clues?

      Back then, though, Sonic didn’t feel any certain way towards the ebony hedgehog. All he felt was a mix of attraction, competitiveness, and smug. He liked a good fight and a challenge, and Shadow was the perfect match for that description. Did he feel the same way towards him, now? Did he feel as though the other was just a fight and a challenge? As Sonic got up from the counter to make his way towards his bedroom, he realized that maybe that was part of it, but it was not at all what he felt anymore for the other.

      Slumping down into his bed, he groaned in exasperation into his pillow. He hated thinking, he’d much rather be running, but as he took another glance outside he realized that was impossible. Sure, he’s taken plenty of runs in the rain before. The weather never stopped him when he needed to be on the move. The reason why he didn’t want to go out now was simply because there was a flash flood warning, which meant the streets were probably incredibly high with water - and if he had to guess, from how much it’s been raining these past few days, likely up to his knees.

      Sonic hated water more than he hated thinking, so he laid there with his face stuffed with pillow, further despairing over the situation. The fact that Shadow was calling more infrequently, making excuses that he has appointments to attend to, only added onto his loneliness and aggravation. Sure, he could wait, he’s waited before, but this time it felt like 5 days was an eternity. They’ve still been texting a lot of the time, and Shadow seems to not be avoiding him or leaving him on read for days, but it still was hell every time he had to wait hours for a reply back. 

      Rolling over onto his back, he glared at the ceiling, musing with pursed lips. He wished he knew what he wanted from Shadow, maybe then it’d be easier to figure out why waiting was more agony than usual. Sonic was always impatient, but he knew waiting for the right moment had its perks. Did…. Did he fuck up by not waiting for the right moment to get intimate like that with Shadow? The hedgehog furrowed his eye ridges even more, feeling an emotion rise up in his throat that he hasn’t felt since the time his head was forced under water, the world deaf to his ears, his voice lost completely in the liquid - fear, fear, fear, fear.

      He couldn’t handle that, if he did something to ruin the balance of their relationship, if he took the rug from out beneath their feet and had them both falling endlessly with no direction - If he fucked things up with Shadow by moving too fast, he would never forgive himself. The friendship they had, that they’re just creating, was way too important to him to mess up. He couldn’t mess it up, he had to elaborate - he had to tell him that he didn’t mean harm by any of that. If they ran fast without setting a destination point, or even establishing where they were going in the first place, they’d only get lost, right? 

      Sonic sat up and nodded to himself frantically, trying to reframe the fear in his throat into that fiery determination. There was no way he could mess it up, if he just tried to tell Shadow how he felt about it. That they needed to continue being just good friends first, before daring to do anything like that again. He’s sure that the ebony hedgehog would actually appreciate that, considering he didn’t have a lot of friends in the first place - and the ones he was friends with, he apparently hardly talked to the same way he talked to him. Sonic felt himself fluster at that, rubbing at his chest and face again to try and steel himself before hitting the call button.

      It rang a few times, as he shook his leg, begging that the other would pick up. When it went to voicemail, his ears pinned back on his head, and he slumped. Looking down at the screen and hitting the end button, he tapped on his knee, trying to think this through. Okay, maybe he should say it in person, anyways? It’d be easier to explain himself if he could see Shadow’s face - to know he was talking to a living, breathing, kind-hearted person who just…. Happened to say really rude and shitty things to cover up the fact that he was actually kind and caring.

      Sonic furrowed his eye ridges and shook his head again, getting up from his bed to grab himself another snack. He was just so damn hungry all the time, and being bored only made him hungrier. He tried to scold himself for being unfair in accusing Shadow of being an asshole while he did it, but he kind of was. Sure, Sonic was an asshole first some of the time, but… Honestly, maybe Sonic liked the fact he was a royal jerk? The blue hedgehog felt himself flustering at the thought of it, hoping to the Gods of Chaos that didn’t mean he had a thing for cruddy bad boy types.

      He sort of did, though, didn’t he? Or at least the ones who were so devilishly handsome. It wasn’t like Shadow was always mean, either. He picked on him and mocked him, but he was also so blatantly affectionate and caring. Even when they had- they had done those things with each other, his hands were nothing but gentle and loving. The word “loving” rang through his mind and he nearly choked on his own air, immediately hunching over the kitchen counter and gripping at it. Holy shit, he’d never think he’d use a word like that for Shadow, but now that he’s thought it, he can’t get it out of his fucking mind. 

      Something was really, really wrong with him. The way Shadow looked at him that morning - it was the epitome of loving . It was the very definition of loving , and Sonic was losing his mind over it. He immediately remembered the way Shadow looked at Cream, or his sister Rouge, and the knot in his throat kept growing to an insane size. 

      He could feel a mix of emotions flooding through him as he tried to take deep breaths before he has a panic attack, realizing he’s really, really messed up. He did it again - he fell too hard too fast, and instead of telling the person, he got handsy and sexual. It’s like high school all over again, and next thing he knows they’ll just be fuck buddies, with no direction, with no real meaningful relationship -

      Sonic wiped his face repetitively, glancing nervously outside, wishing it’d just stop raining. He wanted to run, his body had so much pent up energy and it was making his brain jump to wild conclusions. If he just talked this out with Shadow, if he could just find his voice, if he just communicated - none of these scenarios would happen. They can be friends, they can prioritize their friendship before their sexual attraction for each other, and Sonic could continue to look into those ruby eyes of his. Those loving, caring, affectionate eyes that betrayed Shadow’s rude, cold, guarded words and personality. It’d just work out fine, and nothing could go wrong, and everything would be okay. Taking a deep breath and steadying himself finally, he closed his eyes and focused on his breathing.

      There was no water, he wasn’t drowning, he could talk. He repeated that in his mind over and over, rehearsing the words. He didn’t go through years of speech therapy to relapse now, he didn’t go through all that pain and humiliation to switch from nonverbal to verbal - the stuttering, the mispronunciation, repeating himself over and over to try and reiterate a single phrase - just to go back on all that now. He was Sonic The Hedgehog, and he had this. 

            “I can talk. I’ve got this. I can talk. I’ve got this.”

      Sonic took a moment to try and go over his words a few more times, repeating phrases over and over, only slowing down when he tripped over a syllable or emitted a key sound to the phrase. When he felt confident his throat wouldn’t close up from panic again, he took one last breath and shook his head. 

            “Okay, you’re Sonic The Hedgehog. You’ve got this.” 

      Smiling a bit, he finally turned to return to what he was doing, before he heard a rough knocking at his door. The blue hedgehog startled back, nearly feeling himself slip back into his crisis from earlier just from the sudden noise. Taking a moment to take another deep breath, he steeled himself before walking towards the door, and looking through the peephole.

      He honestly didn’t know what he expected, but a drenched and depressed looking echidna was not it. Knuckles hardly ever came to him for anything, let alone out of the blue and without any warning. Sure, there were moments where they bonded and even comforted each other, but they were rare. Usually they were strong enough to do things on their own. Worry etched its way into his mind as he unlocked his deadbolt, which only existed in the first place because of Tails’ paranoia. Said Sonic has made one too many enemies to counteract his large quantity of friends, or something. 

            “Heya, Knux, what’s up?”

      He got absolute silence. They just stood there, staring at each other awkwardly, until finally the echidna moved to walk inside. Sonic quietly side stepped out of the way, realizing now exactly why he was here - it was quiet time. The hedgehog cringed at that, wishing it didn’t sound so cruddy, but it honestly helped Knuckles more than either of them liked to admit. That Sonic was the only person who could give him quiet time, while still hanging out with him. The only person who knew how it felt to not want to talk but to just sit in comfortable companionable silence for a while. 

      Sonic honestly still didn’t know what to expect when his echidna friend showed up on his doorstep, soaked from the pouring rain, looking like he had been run over by a truck. Again, he didn’t often seek out comfort, often times he was too busy putting on his tough guy facade hardcore. It was gnawing at him, as Sonic lead him to the bathroom wordlessly, showing him how to turn on the hot water. At first, he tried to caringly fawn over Knuckles, even taking his jacket off for him, but that just seemed to upset him more. Instead, the blue hedgehog just gave him a towel and his space, and left him to take care of it himself.

      It was approximately 25 minutes later that his friend came out of the bathroom, looking like a drowned rat still, but considerably less like a freezing cold drowned rat. Finally, the echidna sat down on the couch next to him, and allowed Sonic to actually dote over him. As he began drying his friend’s quills for him gently via towel, he began whistling, but Knuckles hunched up and grunted.

                “ Stop .”

      If anyone else told him to stop making noise, Sonic would’ve been offended, maybe even borderline livid. Instead, he took a deep breath and tried again, humming low and soft instead. This seemed to melt the tension in the echidna’s shoulders, so the blue hedgehog smiled and continued working on the other’s quills. After enough minutes of silence, knowing Knuckles was likely not going to be the first to talk, Sonic took a deep breath and began the conversation. 

      He tried not to speak softly, but still speak in a lower tone, knowing Knuckles didn’t want to be babied over this. Honestly, Sonic felt the same way whenever he was upset over something, so it was a solidarity between two good best bros. The blue hedgehog couldn’t help but smirk at ‘two guys chilling in a hot tub five feet apart cause they’re not gay’ memes - as well as bromo no homo - it was the epitome of their friendship over the last 6 or so years. 

            “I’m kind of glad you stopped by, honestly. Tails said he couldn’t come home for dinner, and I’ve been stumped on this part of my game. Ya feel me? Company is so mega appreciated, man.”

      Knuckles nodded silently, turning to look at him, finally. The grief that was there earlier seemed to be lesser, but the red rings under his puffy eyes were still there. 

                “Wanna… watch something together?”

      Smirking, Sonic grabbed the towel off his friend’s shoulders, moving to get up. 

            “Yeah, I’ve got this movie I think you’d like, if you wanna watch that?”

                “If it’s as lame as the aliens vs. predator movie you showed me earlier this year, no thanks.”

      Laughing at that, the blue hedgehog began walking towards the laundry room to throw the used towel in the hamper. He spared a glance back to see Knuckles crack a smile, though, and thought it to be a success. Hook line and sinker, baby. 

            “It’s this weird indie kinda movie, it’s full of a whole ton of history references - it talks about how this society like, says they don’t agree with fascists and would never elect one again, but then falls victim to it all over again when this dude uses comedy and modern pop culture to win the popular vote. The catch is, he’s actually a famous dictator from the past, too. It’s like, wild. I was so appalled and grossed out the whole movie - I felt like I was gonna hurl at this one horrible shooting scene, but I couldn’t turn it off, y’know? I would never watch it again though if it weren’t for the fact I knew you’d be so down for it- really not my kinda thing.”

      Knuckles’ eyes seemed to gleam, as he leaned over the couch and hung off of every word Sonic was saying. The blue hedgehog, once again, felt like he’s landed a major victory. He knew it was something the other would have liked. While his echidna friend didn’t care for current day politics, he adored learning about anything history related - and that heavily included politics. Sonic could never see him being a politics major though, as he had already complained about the few political science classes he’s had to take for his current major, but it was obvious the knucklehead knew a lot about it.

      Sonic was going to leave the political science major to his fiery and passionate friend Amy, instead, who seemed to think the only way to a better future was to obsessively crack down on it. Honestly, when Knuckles and Amy were in a room together, they both fought on what the phrase “progressive politics” meant. While they shared nearly the same beliefs, leaning on the side of reformation, the way they would go about doing said politics always ended up scattered. 

      Knuckles says we should create a full blown revolution, overthrow the government and tear the ground up as we go, carelessly and with anarchy. He claims that unless we overthrow the fascist-like ideology and laws clinging to our current day government, the people can’t truly fight for their freedom. That fighting for what you believe should be as easy as punching the government in its face, fists and all. 

      Amy, however, thinks that the system itself isn’t what’s faulty, it’s the people who are executing the system. Says that instead of rewriting the rules or burning it down to the ground, we should elect better representatives that truly advocate for what the people want. This involves re-educating and spreading awareness to the politically ignorant population, so as to prevent any possible misunderstandings or bigotry when casting votes. 

      Sonic, on the other hand, didn’t really care much at all for how it was done. Just that something needed to be done, one way or another. If given the chance, he’d give himself to any cause that knew what they were doing, helping anyone who asked for help. He hummed as he grabbed the remote, scrolling through Netflix to the movie he was telling his friend about. But, his mind was elsewhere, in a fantasy world where he was the savior. Running around at the speed of sound, competing in races with Shadow, saving the world from impending disaster. 

      In that world, Amy would be a strategist, while Knuckles a commander. He could imagine Shadow and Rouge being double agents, working for as well as against the government, in order to ensure the world was safe - safe from whatever malicious organizations there were out there. No disaster could stop them all. In that world, Tails would be his genius sidekick, who flew an airplane. Everyday, Sonic would fight for freedom in his own way, not caring about what that truly meant or entailed. It doesn’t matter, after all, as long as he could save people and run, free as the wind.

                “Got any snacks?”

      Sonic snapped out of his daze, smirking as he stood up from the couch as the movie began to play.

            “Who do you think you’re even talking to? Of course I have snacks! I just got this really cool microwaveable  cheddar cheese ranch burrito that’s packed with extra meat - less beans, more savory goodness!”

      Sonic could practically feel himself drooling, until Knuckles once again snapped him out of it.

                “You know, I think I liked it better when you ate nothing but those shitty chili dogs- like really? Cheddar AND ranch? On a burrito ?!”

      Sonic waved his hand, placing the other on his hip and shaking his head all the same.

            “I can’t help it if it’s good! Plus, you make it sound like I have bad food tastes.”

      As the blue hedgehog watched Knuckles scoff at that, he was immediately reminded of Shadow making the same face at him. He was able to wrestle the phone from Shadow’s hand long enough to read out his suggestions on what they should eat the other night, and the ebony hedgehog scoffed so similarly- 

                “You know I’m vegan, so I don’t really care what you eat as long as you can give me some fruit or something.”

      Sonic pouted at that, rolling his eyes and walking towards the kitchen. However, he carried the conversation as much as possible without literally shouting.

            “Well it’s not my fault if I’m surrounded by vegans! Sorrrryyyy I grew up with a Fox, like, why is everyone I know a vegan except me and Tails? It can’t just be growing up with a fox thing-“

      Knuckles groaned in aggravation.

                “You put a movie on for me to watch but then you talk through it? Dude, I don’t freaking know, maybe it’s better for your digestion? You ARE friends with peeps who don’t eat meat normally in the wild-“

      The blue hedgehog sped into the room with some grapes and potato chips, chucking them at Knuckles to shut him up in his tracks.

            “Yeah - but! What’s the point of being mobian, and having the same abilities to like eat this crud as a human, if we like- I don’t know, don’t do that? Comforts ‘n digesting is one thing but like - what’s up with that? We mobians CAN eat meat, otherwise we wouldn’t!”

      This seemed to stump the echidna, so much so he paused from his anger at having things chucked at him. He made a stumped face, as if he was trying to think about it seriously but couldn’t. He shook his head like he was trying to shake out the lack of knowledge, seeming frustrated from it.

                “I don’t know?! Why don’t you ask your freakin doctor of a boyfriend?! I don’t study this shit, man! I just look at fossils all day, and eat fruit and chocolate crickets…”

      The blue hedgehog paused as he began sitting, before plopping down fully into the cushion and growing completely red faced and stiff.

            “D-dude! He’s NOT my boyfriend!” 

      Knuckles gave him an unimpressed look as he popped a chip in his mouth. The skeptical look he regarded Sonic with was only amplified by the silent nibbles he gave towards the chip, despite being perfectly capable of eating it whole like a normal person. This aggravated Sonic even more, and he grabbed at the sides of his own quills.

            “Dude- he’s really not. It’s not like you and Rouge, ok?” 

      The flinch was so animated that Sonic couldn’t miss it, and even if he did, he couldn’t of missed the way Knuckles’ dropped the bag of chips all over his lap - several little potato discs spilling all over the place. The way his amethyst eyes pinched up into an expression of despair while his face scrunched up in absolute unbridled rage. Like he was debating tearing off Sonic’s head, right then and there.

                “You think that’s how it fucking is? That me and Rouge are all sunshine and rainbows?” 

      Sonic pursed his lips, feeling a whole different set of nerves spike at Knuckles’ sudden change of tone. Okay, so Rouge was a sore subject right now, then. Noted .

                 “Those fucking siblings are - they’ll take your heart and crush it beneath their feet, Sonic. So you know what? You’re wrong. It’s exactly like Rouge - do yourself a favor and just FORGET it! Nothing will come of it…. If he hasn’t made it official, might as well just fucking end it now. Save yourself the trouble of getting clobbered and just forget it.

      The blue hedgehog watched the echidna cross his arms in a protective embrace towards himself, glaring at the screen. Sonic wasn’t going to just forget this for a dumb movie, as he grab the remote to turn off the screen. This made Knuckles snap, reaching for the remote. Sonic leaned out of his reach, furrowing his eye ridges at the incredibly snappy and inappropriate behavior his friend was exhibiting. What has gotten into him, lately? Sure, he has a temper, but he looked ready to start screaming.

            “Whoa whoa- You’re not watching jack crud in my house until you tell me what happe-”

      The echidna tried to tackle the remote out of Sonic’s hands, and he barely managed not to squeak from it. He flipped himself over the couch edge, hearing a particularly nasty thud of face-to-couch smashing. Sonic smirked, feeling the rush of a fight spiking up with every breath of a second. His quills began to frazzle and his emerald eyes lit up like the tree on Christmas morning. 

      Any thoughts of why he shouldn’t indulge in this childish behavior were chucked out the window and into the rain he couldn’t run in, and Knuckles flipped the whole couch over with his weight, in attempts to catch him. Sonic jolted across the room to the kitchen aisle, standing on the stool and waving his tail mockingly. Just like old times, begging for a good fight from his childhood best friend.

              “Come on, Knucklehead! That the best you got?”

      He felt the echidna chucking several of the couch cushions at him, and he barely managed to dodge by hopping from stool to stool. His adrenaline was barely pumping, so he debated his options of taunting - anything to get more of a reaction. Honestly, running around and playfully wrestling Shadow was even more of a challenge at this point, and the guy wasn’t even trying to seriously fight him like Knuckles was currently.

              “Man, leap frog is an easier game than I remembered! I’m barely breaking a sweat here, loverboy!”

      Amethyst eyes were on fire as Knuckles gritted his teeth, and he charged straight from the turned over couch now devoid of couch cushions and into the kitchen bar’s stools. Sonic used this moment to jump, and when he landed, it was ass first on the red echidna’s long dulled quills. Thankfully the broken vases weren’t close by from their position, otherwise Sonic would have to deal with the fear of broken glass in their quills.

               “Wow, your brain is nearly as slow as you! Really, that the best you got?”

      Instead of rage, or being flipped off of him, Sonic watched as the echidna lifting himself up paused, and gripped the now broken bits of wood from the stools he crashed into beneath his grasp. The fight inside the blue hedgehog began rapidly plummeting from him as he stood off the other’s back, frowning in concern.

                “Knux…? Buddy, you’re not like, actually hurt, are ya?”

      Suddenly, the world was pulled from him too fast, everything around him blurring as his ankle was used as leverage. Sonic groaned in agony at the impact of his head and back hitting the floor, and he tried to blink the black stars from his vision or the rapid painful thumping in his chest. Before he could yell about playing dirty, he stared up at something he didn’t expect to see. Knuckles hovered over Sonic with a softer expression, mouth pulled into an even tighter frown.

                      “You don’t… Actually think I’m a retard, right? I'm not, I... I'm not.”

      Sonic’s face softened considerably at the fragile look the echidna had - the same broken look in his amethyst eyes as earlier. It was heartbreaking, and he completely relaxed onto the floor and stared up at those eyes that were pooling with pain. Of course Sonic didn't think that, for real. He knew better than anyone else that word, and any iteration of insulting someone's intelligence, was just ableist bullshit. If anyone knew how it felt to be stigmatized based on what is considered standard or unstandardized intelligence, it was the two of them. Sonic, the ADHD kid who couldn't pass a test other than an English one without extensive cram studying with Tails and long hours banging his head against the desk in frustration, because it was all so boring and he'd rather read a book about adventures than deal with dumb real world stuff - and Knuckles, the autistic kid, who was really good at history, geography, geology and biology, but royally sucked at anything to do with writing an essay or solving an equation, no matter how many times he tried to drill it all into his head after school with Sonic and Tails.

                 “Dude... you know the answer to that. You know I know better than anybody how hard it is to like - articulate stuff… Talking is hard , y’know? That’s why we met in speech therapy, y’know? So what if I can't pay attention to save my life, and you struggle with understanding what people say t' ya - we both know how to read just fine, we just can't focus in those dumb standardized ways that other peeps do. Plus... If you’re that , then I’ve gotta be like - double or triple that, and I’m not, you know? You’re not…. you’re not stupid, dude. Neither of us are, okay? We've got like, plenty of smarts in our own ways, man." 

      Knuckles nodded firmly, his eye ridges furrowing. However, the blue hedgehog’s first round of reassurance wasn’t going to make the quiver of the echidna’s lip stop. Sonic began to smile, opening his mouth to try and add something else to try and help, before his mouth was blocked completely. 

      It tasted like salted potato chips, and maybe he would’ve liked that, if his mind didn’t immediately imagine someone else’s lips completely. In a matter of moments, Sonic is backed up several spaces on his haunches, eyes widened incredulously and his hand over his mouth. Knuckles didn’t seem to be in a much better state, despite having been the one to initiate the kiss. The echidna immediately began stuttering his apologies, waving his hands frantically. 

                        “I- I didn’t mean- I…” 

      Sonic swallowed, licking his lips, trying not to outwardly wince at how it still tasted so heavily of salt. 

                  “It’s… You’re good, dude… I’m not uh, not offended… I know you uh- didn’t mean… didn’t mean anythin’ by it…”

      The echidna just hunched his shoulders and shook his head, gripping his dreaded quills in a frustrated, outraged growl.

                         “ NO ! It’s NOT good, Sonic! I know you - you told me before you-  you didn’t wanna do that with me and I- I broke that, I just… You just… you’re the only one who doesn’t think I’m… You’re the only person who doesn’t hang out with me because I’m- I’m stupid and easy to pick on … You like, pick on me, but it’s cause- it’s cause you… It’s cause we’re… Similar… A-and I thought… I thought maybe that… I thought maybe that you’d…”

      The echidna’s shoulders slumped fully as he began playing around with the chips of wood around him, avoiding eye contact altogether. He was beginning to organize them from smallest to biggest, looking beyond ashamed of his actions. Sonic felt his throat and heart pinch at the same time at the sight, and instead of trying to keep distance like he was doing before, he scooted on his butt right back over to his friend. He hoped the wood on the floor would clear way for his ass instead of splintering it through his sweatpants, but even if it did, he’d still comically scooted all the way over on his butt anyways. He’s got his priorities set, here.

       Knuckles glanced at his legs as the blue hedgehog settled beside him, and Sonic’s arms wrapped around his upper torso. It wasn’t going to be a hug that was reciprocated, but Sonic was fine with that. Not a lot of people he cared about were the touchy types - not even Tails - but he’d hug them to the moon and back all the same. If he could hold them and make their pain lesser, he would. Even if it’s for a split second, even if he’d be off running again as fast as the wind afterwards, he’d take the moment to show his love for them all, in his own little way.

                   “Dude, you’re my best friend. And you’re going through a crappy situation - and hey, even if I did like you like that, I wouldn’t take advantage of your feelin’s. You’ve got your eyes on her 'n her only, and we both know that -‘Yer just in pain, you can’t even hide it anymore. Like, you really think I’d just not pick up on that crap?” 

      The echidna leaned into the affection he was given, resting his head on Sonic’s shoulder despite being taller. It was an awkward fit, a large-shouldered echidna leaning his heavy weight onto a slim-fit shoulder, but Sonic managed with a melancholic smile. He meant it when he said he’d hug everyone and anyone - he’d help them all. No matter the size, the shape, the pain. Everyone was welcome, he had space for all sorts of friends. There was nothing wrong with that.

                         “... She hates me, Sonic.”

      The blue hedgehog sighed through his nose, and reached his hand up to begin petting Knuckles’ dreadlocked quills. They were still a little damp, so he tried not to rake his fingers through them like he did with Shadow’s quills. He knew how easily they tangled and matted, always coming out in messy waves. It was a similar quill style to Sonic’s, but at least he could manage his quills somewhat- Knuckles seemed to always struggle to get his to work with him. Sonic tried not to think about how smooth and soft ebony black quills were, how easy it was to run his hands through them- the graceful slick of them, even when frazzled by panic, not getting mangled or messed up in the slightest despite being a shaking mess...

                   “She doesn’t hate you, Knuckles. You just had another fight… These things happen, dude.”

      Knuckles shook his head and with a gritted fist, he pounded it into his own knee a few times angrily. If it was anyone else, Sonic would anxiously question why someone was hitting themselves with bruising force, but the blue hedgehog knew it wasn’t intentional. The echidna didn’t ever mean to hit himself to hurt - it was just an impulsive action done in the heat of a moment to get himself to stop shaking. Despite this, he reached down to grab the fist, trying to force the tension out from how it was gripped, before Knuckles could repeat the action over and over again in a fit.

                    “Dude, she doesn’t hate you. She looks at you like you’re the world . Like you’re her whole world.”

      Knuckles shook his head even more violently this time, nearly rubbing Sonic’s shoulder raw through his sweatshirt, and the blue hedgehog cringed a bit. It didn’t hurt, just startled him, but-

                           “She HATES me - She told me - She told me I was an idiotic freak who- who thought just because I provide for her a little, that I could… Could go around using her and- and I didn’t? She…”

      Sonic waited until Knuckles continued, the echidna was now trembling which meant he was trying not to cry. It took a lot to get this knucklehead to cry in the first place, he’s only seen him do it maybe when one of his family members died, and the blue hedgehog didn’t dare try and overspeak his friend. It wouldn’t matter much if he did, though. For people like them, their body language spoke louder than any of their words did, anyways. 

      Yet it was like a bit of a code between speech therapy bros, to not speak over each other ever - it was already so hard to talk about feelings and situations in general, so to mute him when he finally was letting it out was like shoving him down under the water. Sonic wasn’t cruel, he didn’t want anyone else to feel the sensation of drowning, especially not when his friend was trying to talk about his pain.

                “She was really… affectionate and touchy the other day, and I was indulging her - and things were okay for a bit, while she was on top of me, but when I switched positions… a-and I told her she looked pretty underneath me - she - she looked like she saw a fucking ghost , Sonic.”

      The blue hedgehog lifted his head up to stare at a wall with furrowed eye ridges. His mind began raking through his memory of Rouge all throughout highschool, coming onto the bus with heavy foundation on her eyes - all the other girls made fun of her since you weren’t supposed to use anything but eyeshadow on your fur. He remembered how she’d bark back at them and sneer, telling them they were just jealous she looked so good. He’d always laugh and tell her to forget ‘em, to sit with him and the crew in the back. Half the time she did, but other days she’d recline, wanting to sit alone.

      He frowned further when he remembered the bruises on her neck, which were a bit harder to cover up, even with the best of turtleneck sweaters. How she used to wear nothing but concealing clothing, but the moment she dropped out of highschool for a year, and came back? It was like a personality switch - nothing was left to the imagination, her makeup was better than ever, she lost a bit of weight in her middle and always had something cutting to say. 

      She never stopped bragging about her family, either, where before she never spoke of them ever. She went on and on about how awesome her older brother was, strong and caring, with a heart as big as his brain, but not nearly as big as his muscles. She made sure to say that extra loud for any of the boys who hit on her that she didn’t hit on first, getting a look of satisfaction on her face everytime one of them would buy it and cower in fear of this big brother figure she adored so much. The majority of everyone, though, thought she made him up, but she just smirked and said ‘at the end of our senior year, you’ll see, I’ll show you all he’s real. He’s just a year older, so he won’t cramp anyone’s style too much.” 

      Sonic snapped back to the present when Knuckles took another deep breath, shaking his head again, but this time weakly. 

                  “She pushed me off, and that was… ok. I didn’t freak out, ‘cause I thought she was like, scared or changed her mind - that was fine, y’know? I probably did something wrong, or something… I never did stuff like that before, and I planned to be really slow about it, and all, so- but like, she…”

      He fiddled with some wood chips by their legs, and Sonic waited again for him to finish.

                   “She was gonna go out the door without buttoning up her blouse properly, so I kept tryna tell her that, but she wouldn’t stop moving to grab her things so I reached out to, you know, to touch her shoulder and tell her to slow down? I… I brushed her wing when tryna touch her shoulder, and like… Like she shrieked like I had… Like I had hurt her badly? But I didn’t - I didn’t do anything other than brush the tip of her wing, I-... I didn’t… I didn’t mean to… I wouldn’t ever- I just… I was just tryna tell her to button up her shirt- A-and she screamed at me- She said I- She said I was-” 

      Finally, Sonic felt the echidna hiccup, and watched as he hid his face in his hands. The blue hedgehog stared at his friend as he broke down and tried to put the puzzle pieces together. A year of not attending school, bruises she tried to hide, a seemingly new family she was proud of out of nowhere. He didn’t like the bad taste in his mouth at all of this, but he wasn’t here to crack the code - he was here to help his friends. One at a time, Sonic. You can talk to the bat later, focus on the Knucklehead first. 

            “Just ‘cause she flipped doesn’t mean she hates you, you know.”

      Knuckles shook his head, gripping the sides of his quills in frustration as tears began pooling down his face, now dropping to his knees. He looked so incredibly pissed off, but his voice was anything but, coming out in waves of panic.

                 “She- she- she said she hated- she said she-”

      Sonic rubbed his friend’s back and scowled further, realizing talking logic wasn’t going to work while he was this worked up over all of this. 

            “Hey, do you remember that time I visited angel island when I was 13?”

      The echidna blinked, his eyes furrowing in further frustration as he looked up, scrutinizing him.

                 “Y-yeah…? But that doesn’t have t-... to do with-”

      The blue hedgehog took a deep breath and gave his best blinding smile. It was fake, but he felt confident and calm enough to do this. He could do this much for his friend, easy peasy. Just put on your best show, Sonic. Pretend you’re like Amy, with all that wisdom about pain and love and the in between.

              “Do you remember that really loud and obnoxious harmonica I used to have?”

      Immediately, Knuckles forgot his despair momentarily to cringe, giving Sonic the most disgusted face he’s seen since the time the hedgehog mentioned he loved putting hot sauce on his PB & J sandwiches in the 9th grade. He liked experimenting with his food, okay? Nothing wrong with a little spicy...

                     “How the fuck could I forget?! You wouldn’t STOP playing it!” 

      Sonic nodded, taking a deep breath before looking across the room. This was gonna be hard to explain to the Knucklehead, but he hoped it helped to calm him down. 

                “You smacked it out of my hands that day- when I visited you. I was so incredibly bored, ‘cause we were surrounded by your really old family. Your grandmother Tikal was too tired to play, so we were outside, and you had enough of the high pitch noise, so you-”

      Knuckles interjected, but his voice was solemn and regretful.

                       “I slapped it out of your hand, and told you to shut up, because it hurt my ears… It… It was really overstimulating, but I didn’t explain it to you… I just said I hated your guts and to never come back to my island again, ‘cause you made too much noise and it would disturb my family…”

      The blue hedgehog nodded, turning back to his friend. 

                 “Sometimes, we say things we don’t really mean, ‘cause we’re in too much pain to say anything else, you know? We end up hurting the people we love, ‘cause we aren’t sure how else to communicate that we’re hurting- but it doesn’t make it right. We’re still in the wrong for hurting our loved ones, and it’s really cruddy of us t’ do, but it doesn’t mean we meant what we did, or wanted to do it, you know? That’s when we gotta apologize for doin’ stuff we don’t mean, and that’s what we gotta hope Rouge will do.”

      The echidna furrowed his eye ridges, staring down at the floor. He looked a lot less pissed or distressed, and the tears on his face stopped flowing, but now he just looked confused. Like he didn’t understand at all what anything meant, ever. Sonic just smiled brighter and patted his friend’s shoulder sturdily. Knuckles seemed to sober up from this, blinking before opening his mouth and spitting out words that Sonic really didn’t expect to hear.

                      “What if I can’t forgive the hurt, though? I… I don’t know, Sonic. I can’t- I’ve been so depressed lately it just, and my family has been, you know… everyone keeps… old age, no one lasts, even when I try to… to be careful, and it really hurt to… To be told I was basically nothing despite all my efforts to be careful, dude. I was like, always trying my best to make our relationship work, and she didn’t want to. She doesn’t want to make this work the same way I do, I don’t think she does, at least...”

      Sonic licked his lips again, feeling them turn very dry from the curveball he’s being thrown. He was very biased in this, because he’s seen the way they looked at each other like the world around them didn’t exist. Like their love could soar endlessly, like together nothing could stop them. When they got along, things just clicked, you know? He shook his head and realized his bias wasn’t going to help his friend, though. He tried his best to think of someone who would give really good, objective advice. 

      Maybe Shadow? He felt a bit salty about that, but he tried to pretend he was reading from a script where for some reason, in some weird universe, Shadow wasn’t biased about Rouge since they weren't siblings, and he was actually trying to give Knuckles good, wholesome, blunt advice. That’s it - wholesome, blunt, objective honesty. That’s what he had to channel here.

                 “That’s your choice to make, Knuckles. I’d take time to heal from this, just focus on you. If you spend time with your friends, you’ll feel better, and … if you still feel scornful after a while, and what she did warrants you to never trust her again, that’s totally fine. You don’t have to trust anyone you don’t want to. If her apology, if or when she gives you one, doesn’t make it feel better? Well then that’s it - there’s other fish to fry with that fiery passion in your eyes. You’re powerful and strong, not some pathetic, weak, helpless being. Pick yourself up, don’t dwell in all the negatives and what ifs until they happen. Then you can react accordingly.”

      Knuckles looked lost at his end meaning, but nodded regardless. Sonic was thankful he still got it, because he might have gone a bit too far with trying to get into character when it came to what he’d imagine Shadow saying, and nearly got too caught up in thoughts of pathetic small creatures instead of staying on point. Now that Knuckles understood, he tried to channel some of that hardass fighting Spirit that Amy always has about tough love.

                 “And like - don’t apologize before she apologizes. She yelled at you , and that hurt you. Have her explain herself, and then you can apologize on your behalf. ‘Cause I’m sure you did do something to make her snap like that, but you can’t know what you did wrong if she doesn’t tell ya. And if you DO end up with her, after all of this, set some darn boundaries - you guys suck at those. Like really, take a hint, ya Knucklehead.”

      The echidna regarded him with a bored, irritated look. It just caused Sonic to laugh his bubbly ol’ laugh, going to get up off the floor to stretch his limbs. Sitting on the ground was beginning to wear out his tail bone - he hasn’t been out running in so long, and with all the hunching over his game, sitting on the floor was just worse on his already chronically sad excuse of a back.

                       “Like you have any right to talk. You wouldn’t know a boundary even if you saw the sign miles beforehand-”

      Sonic scoffed, acting mock offended as he lifted his hands up defensively.

                 “Hey! It’s not my fault! There weren’t any speed limit signs, so how was I supposed to know not to go 90 MPH on a 40?! Can’t read boundaries if I’m too busy screwin’ ‘em!” 

      The blue hedgehog immediately paused mid thumbs up to sputter at his own Freudian slip, immediately trying to take his wording back. Amethyst eyes widened comically wide, but it was clear he didn’t understand what the hell Sonic was on about. Thank Chaos for that, because the embarrassment of his own words was enough to kill Sonic, let alone what would happen if Knuckles actually picked up on what he was going on about. He really didn’t need the other to know he’s already gotten physical with Shadow, let alone the fact he was regretting going too fast so much it slipped out of his mouth mid metaphor just now.

            Or well, it would be a metaphor, if you didn't lose your license last year from doing race car drag races....

                “Dude, what you just said was all sorts of messed up. Do you even think before you speak?”

      Sonic flustered, rubbing his face repetitively before groaning.

            “Bro you KNOW I don’t, that’s the whole point of, you know, speech therapy? Learning to talk properly? Like hello , who do you think I am, some-“

       His phone began ringing just as he was about to go on a tangent, and he paused. The echidna finally got up from the floor, looking a bit guiltily at all the wood chips and glass on the floor now that he was feeling better. Sonic cleared his throat, holding a singular finger up.

             “Give me one moment, I’m gonna make sure this call isn’t important - you can start the movie again while I’m gone, if you want?”

       Knuckles nodded and went to go sit on the couch, while Sonic took this opportune moment to rush down the hallway and into his bedroom, fishing his phone out of his pocket. He’s glad that the echidna didn’t question his need for privacy, usually Sonic would just pick up the phone right in front of him. However, as he looked at his caller ID that said “Faker” with several kissy face and heart emojis next to it, he was so thankful he didn’t whip his phone out in front of the knucklehead. 

      God, what was wrong with him? Maybe he should delete the emojis? Just ‘faker’ would suffice, but… Sonic shook his head and picked up the phone just as he was sure it would go to the last ring.

              “Hey, ‘sup Shads?”

       A grunt came from the other line. It took a few moments, but finally Shadow’s voice came out, strangely scrutinizing more than usual. It seemed… tense? But why would he be tense? Sonic hasn't even bugged him today-

                       “You tell me, hedgehog. You’re the one who called me earlier, and didn’t bother to leave one of your annoyingly lengthy voicemails, or text me whatever dumb random fact you were likely trying to share with me this time. So, what’s the context, this time?”

      Sonic panicked, trying to rake his mind for an excuse as to why he called - he couldn’t talk about the real reason why he called, not when Knuckles was here, not when he nearly had an episode earlier. Even now, he could feel his throat tightening with panic, and he had to take an evening breath before talking -

             “I dunno I just missed you?”

      The blue hedgehog winced at his own words, like what the fuck? What the fuck Sonic. He began tapping his foot as his chest constricted, like something was crushing it, and he opened his mouth to take it back but Shadow’s voice came out so- so…

                       “You… Missed me.”

       He licked his lips several different times, shaking his hands as he tried to blink or shake out the nerves pounding through his body. He really messed up, he really, really messed up. Sonic couldn’t even begin to recognize what that tone meant, it was so soft and it sounded confused - open and vulnerable . This was the worst, this was the worst moment in his whole entire life. His palms were clammy and his mind was racing and he tried to make his brain to words to mouth function.

                 “Y-yeah… Like… Can’t a hedgehog miss his best buddies?”

       Stupid, STUPID. He slapped his own forehead as he began pacing around his room. What, was he really going to friendzone Shadow over the phone like this? Yet instead of getting an unfavorable reaction, he just heard a snort. He stopped in his tracks, furrowing his eye ridges. Did he just hear that right? Shadow, snorting? Shadow, showing any sense of humor or amusement other than smugness?

                            “Well, since it’s not an emergency, I’m going to proceed with working on this thesis which is far more important than your ridiculous assumptions that we are 'best buddies.'

       Sonic lifted an eye ridge at this, humming.

             “A thesis statement? I thought you didn’t go to college?”

       A huff was heard on the other end, and some shifting, before he got his reply.

                             “I don’t, not a public one at least, however I do have some online courses I’ve been meaning to catch up in. I do have an incomplete doctorate to work towards, eventually. I may be practically a certified military doctor, considering the amount of emergency life-saving surgeries I have done, within my time of studying overseas, but I don’t have the right credentials to work in certain professional settings. I’d like to change that to broaden my horizons, when I begin tackling the job market once more.”

       The blue hedgehog felt himself flustering again at that, and he wasn’t sure why. It shouldn’t make him feel so turned on that Shadow is studying for a doctorate, but it really did. Dear God of Chaos, did he have it that bad already? Just hearing Shadow talk about credentials and certifications got his blood boiling. It was so hot in the room when he heard the words job market, and - honestly, why was this getting him so flustered?! Was it the prospect of Shadow doing an altruist act, doing life saving surgery? The thought of sweat on the other’s eye ridge as he commanded an ER room flashed through Sonic’s mind, and he wanted nothing more than to witness that stern yet caring tone towards a potential life saved… Or maybe just towards me , Sonic selfishly thought.

               “O-oh, well, I guess that makes sense! You gotta uh, keep your options open ‘n stuff. It’s pretty chill you’re doin’ all that - gotta look good on a resume, huh?”

       The ebony hedgehog hummed, and Sonic could hear the sound of clicking. Sonic knew he should hang up and go hang out with Knuckles, but he felt like prolonging this conversation as long as possible. Sonic, why are you like this? Your friend just had a breakdown and you’re here getting squirmy thinking about being manhandled by a sexy, war veteran doctor. The blue hedgehog cringed at his own thoughts, sitting down in his desk chair to tap his foot in a beat while he did what he did best - improvise.

              “I uh, I might know what I want my major to be, too? I mean- like, I have an idea but it’s not permanent. I can change it, if I find something else more uh… important to go after. Priority wise ‘n all..”

       The noise of clicking stopped, and silence followed suit. When Shadow didn’t open his mouth to speak or make any further noise, Sonic realized he had the floor, all ears, and flustered a bit more. Having Shadow’s full attention was rare in itself, but the fact the other paused the important thing he was doing to listen to him ramble about the future was so- it filled him up with a feeling he couldn’t even name. The thought of lovingly flashed through his mind again as he rubbed at his neck. 

               “Like, I think I might want to do something that would help with this game I’ve been trying to make? I can’t do coding, Tails has promised t’ help with that portion when it gets down to the real complicated parts, and I’m really not good with some of these programs, no matter how much I google tutorials on them, so… I was thinking maybe something to help with 3D modeling? Or something… I know it’s kinda dumb, though-”

       As Sonic swished in his chair to face his computer to look at said game, more rustling could be heard from the other end of the line before Shadow replied. His voice was so smooth when the ebony hedgehog said this, that it caused all sorts of feelings to flutter in his chest. Like there was no doubt in Shadow's mind that what he was saying was pure, irrefutable fact.

                           “It’s not dumb to have a passion in something, faker. You take courses to learn something you don’t already have knowledge in, but wish to master. If you wish to master the art of 3D modeling for your project, there is no shame in that. While I don’t know if you’d truly enjoy a major in the field, the least you could do is try the classes out to see if they’re a reasonable fit. You’d be learning something valuable to your livelihood, all the same. Now stop stressing so much on whether or not you’ll regret it, and just fucking do it, you stupid cowardly hedgehog.”

       Licking his lips, he looked at the modeling program in front of him, but his mind was only on Shadow’s words. He carefully chose to ignore the fact that Shadow called him a coward, because okay yeah, maybe he was being a bit of a coward about things lately - hell, he was only talking to him about all of these things since he was too cowardly to admit why he called Shadow in the first place.

              “Y-yeah, you’re right. Guess you could say I have a real passion for graphic design, huh? Gotta live and learn, and like I know I said it’s not permanent and just a thought but… Once I put my mind to something I really don’t stop, you know? I’m sure I’ll figure it out, once I throw myself at it.” 

      Sonic felt like his mini-joke about graphic design was hilarious, but he didn’t get a crack out of the other. Instead, Shadow hummed at his words thoughtfully, and what sounded like the phone being shifted from one shoulder to another could be heard. Sonic began chewing at his bottom lip, running out of things to say that could be considered useful to the other currently, before he finally released it to speak again. He knew he should get back to Knuckles, but he couldn’t stop his mouth from moving. 

               “Hey, uh… What I said earlier was true, you know? I really uh, do miss you sometimes. So don’t hole yourself up too much, even if you’re working hard, ‘kay? I do like seeing you, if you ever want to hang out again…”

      Radio silence. No clicking, no breathing, no shifting, nothing. Like Shadow has frozen still, or just stopped existing altogether. Swallowing harshly, he began chuckling nervously and pulling at the collar of his sweatshirt. Sonic didn’t expect a meaningful answer to what he said, but he didn’t expect total silence either. It would be so much easier if he could see Shadow’s face right now - but he didn’t have time to suggest face timing, and he knew Shadow was busy… Maybe he should just let the other go, to focus on what he was doing?

                “Well! I’m gonna let you get back to your good work! You’ve got this, Shads. I’ll talk to you later - I’m gonna go entertain my company, since I’m sure I’ve already spent an unreasonable amount of time away, anyways. Don’t be a-”

       Shadow’s breath came out trembling on the receiver, and the blue hedgehog paused his rambling goodbye in its tracks at the deep sound of the ebony hedgehog’s voice. 

                            “ Don’t be a stranger now - is what you’re going to say. You say that line a lot, it could be a catchphrase. Get new material, hedgehog. This isn’t a movie showing, it’s real life.”

      Sonic rubbed his knee sheepishly, feeling himself fluster once again. It’s true, he did rehearse that phrase the most - it was the easiest thing to say to someone when saying goodbye. It was true, and it’s what he felt, so why would he say anything else? He didn’t want Shadow to be a stranger, he wanted to get to know him. Sonic wanted nothing more than to know Shadow, and have Shadow… Know him? 

       Sonic furrowed his eye ridges at that, feeling something in the pit of his stomach flutter. Did he really… want Shadow to know him, fully, though? If he did, he’d be saying ‘everything I say is scripted’ in full honesty, letting Shadow know how on the nose he was, but instead the blue hedgehog kept his lips tightly pressed shut.

                              “You know, Sonic… I find it horribly unamusing that you would try and prolong a conversation, and try to entertain me with your incredibly boorish fantasies of the future, instead of paying attention to your current ‘company .’ Whoever they may be this time, that is. Try and have some courtesy to those who demand your time, hedgehog. Clearly you do not understand your place here, when it comes to handling other’s emotions - learn some damn priorities.”

       Sonic began bristling at that, feeling the fight rise in him along with the bristle of his quills, but before he could let out the first syllable of his defense against the mocking, the line went dead. There was so much anger bubbling up inside of his chest and throat as he opened and closed his mouth, before closing his eyes tightly and scrunching up his face.

       What an absolute jackass. What a total and absolute tool. If he was here right now, he’d tackle that smug bastard to the ground and- and… The anger in his features dissipated as he felt his face fluster even more red. He dropped his phone on the desk to rub at his face, quills, and chest to try and get rid of the feeling inside of his body, but it only made it grow. 

      Great, just fucking great. He was just dragged to hell and back, insulted so thoroughly and accurately to his character, and he was still thinking about Shadow kissing him. What the hell was wrong with him?! He should be mad, he should feel insulted and outraged and appalled - in fact he sort of still did, but his urge to kiss that dumb face of Shadow’s was stronger than the urge to punch it. 

      Sure, he wasn’t the best kisser. Sure, Sonic has kissed much better. Hell, even Knuckles kissed better than Shadow, but- but when the echidna kissed him earlier, Sonic felt nothing. No need to get closer, no sparks, no nothing. Not even with the heat of their fight earlier, or the vulnerable look Knuckles gave him, or the way Sonic laid on the floor beneath him in an open position - none of it gave Sonic the same feelings Shadow did when he did those things to him.

      Sonic slumped in his desk chair, staring up at the ceiling with wide and curious eyes. There was nothing to see up there, but he felt like there was so much to see of Shadow. He lifted a hand up to his lips and let his fingers brush against his bottom lip, reminiscing on how Shadow’s fang felt, sloppily poking out of his mouth during their frantic kisses that morning. It was obvious the other didn’t kiss often, and if he did, he didn’t bother to learn how to do it properly.

      Yet Sonic never wanted anything more than to feel those inexperienced lips on his again. It set so many fires in his soul aflame, and he couldn’t even begin to explain it. Just as he tried to piece together whether he really wanted to try and take back that morning’s events, he heard loud thumping footsteps down the hall and his door slam open.

                 “MY BOBE - SHE FELL DOWN THE STAIRS AGAIN SHE- SHE-“

      After jumping out of his fur and up in his chair, Sonic furrowed his eye ridges and tilted his head.

            “Dude, didn’t she do that last week? Your grandmother falls all the time - I’m sure she’ll be fine, the nurses will-”

      Knuckles shook his head, and for the second time this evening, he saw his friend begin to tear up.

                  “ B-bobe Tikal.. she- she… She…”

      Sonic frowned, getting up from his chair to cross the room, but before he could outstretch a hand, Knuckles began dialing a number on his phone with shaky hands. Sonic was sort of afraid the echidna would drop it in his trembles. It was sort of scaring him how his friend, who was stronger than anything in the world, was being reduced to full body tremors.

                  “I’m- We’re- I’m gonna call Amy she- She can drive us-”

      The blue hedgehog felt himself frown even more, and if he frowned any longer today, his face might start hurting - or worse, he’d be stuck like this. He’s never frowned so much in his life, and it felt like today was meeting his yearly quota of frownage. He hasn’t nearly frowned this much in years, he’s felt like. None of that mattered now as he tried to reason with the echidna.

             “Dude, the flooding is gonna make it hard for her to make it here, just tell me what’s going-“

     The echidna shook his head again, frantically, before lifting the phone to his ear. Once it picked up, he began speaking in stutters to his pink hedgehog friend, who sounded nothing but concerned.

                    “Amy, we need a- a ride - my bobe she… She’s gonna… They put her on… On…  it’s gonna be her last - I’m not gonna be able to- I can’t-“

      Sonic watched as Knuckles take uneven breaths, and noticed how he didn’t finish his sentences anymore. He waited a few moments longer before he watched tears roll down the echidna’s cheeks again, so the blue hedgehog reached over and gently removed the phone from his friend’s hands. Considering the look on his face, as well as shaking and hyperventilating, he could only guess what’s going on.

               “...Hey, Ames.”

      A worried pink hedgehog’s voice blasted through his ear.

                        “SONIC?! Sonic what’s going on, what’s the matter?! What happened to Knuckles’ grandmother?! Are you both okay?! Are you outside?! Where are you?!”

      The blue hedgehog looked his friend over again, and saw an expression he hated registering on anyone’s face. It was dead, it was cold, and it wasn’t there. Nothing but a blank slate of nothing, as the echidna slid down the door frame to sit onto the floor weakly. The way his limbs kept trembling heavily even then implied fatigue, and Sonic watched the echidna lift his hands up to the sides of his head, running the palms of his hands over his quills over and over, in a circular soothing pattern. Like he was massaging the sound of the world out of his head.

            “I think she’s... gonna pass, Ames. Do you think you could drive us to the hospital? Knuckles is kinda going into shock or having a bad breakdown or something, I think? I can call an ambulance, if you can’t manage to-”

      Amy immediately interjected, screaming at the top of her lungs.

                       “I’LL BE RIGHT THERE! HEY RAAJAKUMAAREE IT’S TIME TO ROCK AND ROLL WE’VE GOT A MEDICAL EMERGENCY ON CODE BLUE!!!! WE GOTTA GO! PUT ON YOUR RAIN BOOTS PUSSY CAT WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO BRUSH TAIL!”

      Before Sonic could remark further, the pink hedgehog had disconnected the line. Which meant he was left with trying to deal with the echidna before him, who was rocking back and forth, rubbing at his dreadlocked quills still in that repetitive pattern on the sides of his head. The blue hedgehog got to his knees to sit on his haunches beside his friend, and hesitantly touched his friends shoulders.

      The attempt to rock or rub at his head didn’t stop, but frightened eyes looked over at Sonic, and the blue hedgehog felt like his smile was so incredibly forced that it couldn’t of been relieving to see. So he dropped it, instead indulging in looking at Knuckles with a worried expression. He guided that big knuckleheaded head to his shoulder again, and hands went from red dreadlocks to the back of Sonic’s sweatshirt. 

       Sonic stared at a fixed point down the hallway, as Knuckles hyperventilated into his shirt. He tried to open his mouth to tell his friend to take deep breaths, in 4 and out 4, but his voice didn’t come out of his throat. So instead he just continued to pet the dreaded quills as he friend fought and struggled to breathe. He watched Wrenches wriggle out from under the bed and hiss at the loud sounds, before rushing past the two of them to run into the living room somewhere. 

       It didn’t take Amy long to get here, but by the time she did, Knuckles pretty much blacked out at least twice from hyperventilating so much. Sonic tried everything he could think of, a blanket for warmth - cold water, soothing humming, anything. Nothing was calming the guy down. He’s never seen Knuckles have a panic attack this bad before, and he wondered if it really was shock or some sort of episode from all the shit he’s been dealing with this past year.

       As he piled into the back of Amy’s large pink jeep, Blaze began instructing Knuckles to do breathing exercises. The echidna managed to do them, but his face still was as pale as a ghost as he clutched himself. When his head found its way to Sonic’s shoulder again, the blue hedgehog just wordlessly pet his dreaded quills once more. There weren’t a lot of words he could supply to someone who was in pain, so he did what he did best, silently soothed and hoped it was helping.

      Blaze still kept her instructions up, being stern yet calming in her tone as Amy drove quite recklessly through the rainy streets. Sonic looked out the windshield and couldn’t see anything - not the road, nothing. Only water, intense amounts of water. Drowning, unable to breathe, words not forming at the throat - opening your mouth only to get a lung full of water.

      The jeep’s cover was on, but Sonic didn’t feel protected from the weather. He felt wet and cold. He felt like he was feeling everything Knuckles was feeling all at once, as his friend clutched onto the front of his sweatshirt. He knew he should call Tails and ask if the kid wanted to see Granny Tikal one last time, but would he say? It’s not like they had the time to pick him up, either.

      Granny Tikal barely remembered Sonic by the time Tails started to visit her on angel island, so he doubts his little brother would want to see her on her deathbed. They weren’t particularly close, and Sonic didn’t want to expose the kit to death this early in his life if he could help it. 

      Getting to the hospital took longer in the weather, and they hydroplaned a few times, but they made it in one piece. They quickly rushed into the hospital, but Sonic was still drenched, both mentally and physically. He only hung onto the last bits of his sanity for Knuckles’ sake, otherwise he’d be pulling every last one of his quills out as the echidna screamed frantically at the nurse.

      She was frazzled, but when Amy stepped in to explain the situation the nurse immediately went into action. They went about taking him to her bedside, but they also administered several treatments on Knuckles himself to ensure he wasn’t going into shock. Sonic wanted to tell them the echidna blacked out while hyperventilating, wondering if that was medically relevant at all, but couldn’t open his mouth.

      When he did, he got a gulp full of water, so his mouth stuttered shut. Held his air for as long as he could, so he could breathe just a bit longer. They weren’t allowed in the room with Knuckles right now, not in her current condition, so Blaze went to go get some refreshments for them all, as Amy and Sonic sat down in the waiting room chairs. 

                    “... Sonic, are you okay?”

      The blue hedgehog furrowed his eye ridges and looked up at the pink hedgehog beside him, who had her hand on his shoulder. He looked down at the hand, blinking at it for a few moments before taking a deep breath. He stared aimlessly in front of him, feeling the water drip off his quills, down his face, down the tip of his nose. 

      He was so cold. He tried to open his mouth to say ‘no, I’m not’ or to say something along the lines of the fact that he should’ve called Tails, or should’ve told the nurses that Knuckles blacked out, or should’ve said something to him about breathing exercises - but instead, when he opened his mouth, he just gave his best good guy smile. He refused to look at her in the eye as he nodded his head, gripping his one fist in the other. 

            “Yeah, I’m okay.”

      His voice can lie, his face can lie, but his eyes never could. The pink hedgehog’s Malachite eyes scanned over the drenched blue hedgehog, and wished that those emerald eyes could look at her. Amy knew if he did, though, he’d break. So instead, she retracted her hand and folded it in her lap.

      It was probably for the best that he wanted to keep his cool, he’d get it out later once he felt comfortable with doing so. Doubt began to fill her mind, though, at the fact she’s never seen Sonic cry in all the years she’s known him - not even once. Not even during a panic attack, which he's had his fair share of - especially when it came to water or his shitty maintenance of grades. 

                  “This is the third one this year. One to cancer, another to maltreatment in that one nursing home..."

      Sonic nodded, leaning forward more with his arms crossed over his knees. Seeing him hunch like that, with his head perpendicular to the floor - it was a defeatist look that didn’t suit the hedgehog. Amy knew this, and she knew this couldn't be the real Sonic. He would bounce back from this, but for right now, he needed to take a deep breath and a step back. To grieve a little in his own way, even if he wouldn't share it with her. He never shared anything with anybody, after all.

      Which is why, when she couldn’t stand the silence anymore and began talking, she felt so incredibly selfish. She just wanted to talk about it, to distract herself from the situation, or even to see him perk back up in his chair a bit more- To smile that optimistic smile, that would tell everyone it'd be alright. 'Everything's going to okay, Ames! We've all got each other, we can do this! We're team Sonic for a reason.' That's right, he got them all together as friends. He was the sole focal point of their whole entire friend group, bringing them together with a cheery smile and bright emerald eyes.

                   “Do you think he’ll end up blaming himself again? Say it’s his duty as the sole protector of his ancestry to make sure his family stays in tact? He's been, he's been working himself so silly over keeping them going for as long as they can, it's...”

       Sonic simply nodded again, and Amy furrowed her eye ridges, fidgeting with her thumbs in her lap again. She wished that Blaze would come back with the refreshments, already. She knew they’d be here all night, and if they were, Sonic would want something to drink to help clear his throat a bit. He was clearly not in the talkative mindset right now, and she knew from all the years of chasing him around, that forcing him to talk when he didn’t want to only made things worse.

                      “... I can’t do anything to stop him from isolating in grief again, can I? People who lose people they… I can’t help them, ever, can I? I try so hard to, I try really hard to help, but I… I can’t, can I? Yet he's done so well in keeping together all the other times but... But this one's harder, isn't it? Bobe Tikal, she, she didn't lose herself mentally until a few years ago... She didn't start losing herself until..."

      Finally, the blue hedgehog lifted his head up to watch Amy tear up, looking anywhere but Sonic. She didn’t want to put her emotions and burdens on him right now, not when he’s always doing so much to help his friends. Not when he never asked for anything in return. She’s tried so hard to give him as much as he gives everyone else, but she was never good enough for him, and now she can’t be good enough for Knuckles, can she? Amy hugged herself and tried to steady herself.

      She was a strong girl. She was getting married, she could handle this. This situation wasn’t about her, even if she also knew Granny Tikal personally. But the moment she felt Sonic’s hand on her shoulder, all her resolved crumpled as she let out a small sob, throwing her arms open to grab onto Sonic’s shirt. She nestled her face into his chest and let out big, wailing sobs. She hated it, she hated how she always broke down like this. 

      She was sure everyone in the waiting room was looking at her with disgust for crying like a loud whiny baby, but she didn’t care, because she was too busy hearing Sonic hum a low tune. She didn’t recognize the tune, but she knew it meant something. Everytime the hedgehog sang, it always meant so much more than anything else he could say in a moment. 

      She didn’t care if they were being stared at as she got her hiccups out, feeling herself break down. She tuned into the whispered words against her softened, styled quills instead. They were mumbled, but she understood them anyways. As she closed her eyes, she took a deep breath, nuzzling into his comfort more. This was helping, as it always did. As Sonic always does. Everything he does helps so much, and she wondered if he knew that? If he knew all this effort he went to hell and back for truly, truly helped people. 

      Even now, even after she's gotten over him romantically and has moved on, she admired him. So, so much. He's been so strong and supportive for everyone, but she wonders if he was a bit too strong - a bit too supportive - that there was no way anyone could just keep helping others without breaking or snapping at some point. Amy felt herself snapping constantly under the pressure, realizing her limitations. Realizing that she can't help everybody, but does Sonic realize that? 

      Does Sonic realize he can't help everyone, or does he keep pushing through and never stopping? To shake his quills out sky high, running with the wind, never thinking about failure? Or maybe, it's the exact opposite, maybe he secretly hated himself just like the rest of them. Hated himself for the things he couldn't control - like a house fire and an orphanage full of restrictive religious views - or a whole ton of decades old relatives that were frail and ill, all slowly falling to death - or a princess who can't return home unless she wants to be executed for treason - or people scorning you because you were a boy genius, telling you that you're just a nobody with no friends. What was Sonic's story? He never talks about himself, and yet...

           “Don’t blame yourself… Cause you tried hard as hell, with the hand you were dealt…”