Shadow: I hate this chapter.
Jasper: You hate every chapter.
Me: Why this chapter?
Shadow: I hate you.
Jasper: I LOVE this chapter! *snicker*
Shadow: I hate you too.
Jasper: *grins* No you don't.
"Here, hold the knife like-No! Not like that! Do you want to slice your hand open again? Like this," Jasper corrected, carefully removing the deadly blade from his uninjured hand and turning it so it was not in a position to slice off his fingers. Shadow grumbled slightly at being chastised, but accepted the new hold nonetheless.
Jasper then proceeded to show him how to carve the half-formed plate. "Now remember, this is a carving knife, not a saw or an ax. You're not trying to chop the wood; you're trying to direct and form it. Slide the knife along the wood at and angle, like this." The wolf expertly sliced away the very top of the wood, taking off a long, curled strip that was nearly paper thin.
Shadow stared hard at her hands and the knife, trying to silently memorize the way the it was held and it's precise angle. When she handed the knife back to him, he mimicked her previous actions, being able to slice off a strip almost at thin as hers without splitting the wood in two.
With Jasper's constant supervision, their carving had miraculously managed to stay in one piece. It was a reasonably round shape, and was relatively flat, with only four smooth hills on it's surface, and almost no jagged edges.
To say the wolf was relieved they'd not yet had to start over was putting things lightly. She wasn't entirely certain Shadow would tolerate all of their hard work being a complete waste of time. He'd probably pin the whole situation on her own lack of skill and stubbornly refuse her help once again. Besides, he was bored enough as it was.
However, unbeknownst to Jasper, the seemingly uninterested hedgehog had been drinking in every word she said, watching her every move with a critical intensity. He'd resentfully decided the night before that, loathed as he was to admit it, the wolf was indeed more talented than he at carving. Determined to end his present nightmare of cuts, stitches, and utter frustration, he was set on learning what she knew as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.
Part of his problem, he soon discovered, was that he had previously been carving toward his hand, which accounted for the hundreds of tiny cuts covering every square inch of his right hand. According to Jasper, he was lucky he only had one set of stitches.
Shadow was carefully carving the little hills out of his plate, with Jasper nodding her approval, when a knock suddenly sounded at the door. Both student and teacher froze in horror for approximately one-point-three seconds. Then, Jasper sprang to life, expertly snatching the carving knife out of a startled Shadow's hands without slicing his fingers off. The knife was discarded over her shoulder and most of the lumpy plates were discarded into the ever-present fire, while the rest where stashed hurriedly behind the wood pile.
Shadow's mind was still catching up when he found himself slung over the wolf's shoulders and carried halfway across the room. He was then dumped unceremoniously on the floor as Jasper reached for a small, near-invisible cord above her head. A ladder immediately flew downwards, and Jasper caught it just in time to stop it crashing to the ground. She swiftly set it down and slung Shadow back on her shoulders before his mind registered being dropped.
The ladder was climbed with catlike grace and agility, and they were at the top in barely a second. Once there, Shadow felt himself half-dropped, half-thrown backward onto a plush, bouncy surface. Before he had a chance to get his bearings, Jasper sternly whispered one tiny piece of information: "If you don't want the whole word to know you're paralyzed, shut up!"
And then she was gone.
It took Shadow a half-second to register that he was now on Jasper's bed, which explained the ladder. After building the house, the wolf hadn't had room for both the couch and the bed, so she had built a small, wooden platform in the far corner of the house, directly above the fridge, stove, and a cabinet or two. The platform's only occupants were the bed and a small nightstand that she never really used.
Dazed, Shadow dragged himself toward the edge of the bed, trying to peer over the platform do see what was going on. Jasper nearly took his nose off as she half-threw the ladder back into place. Still feeling slightly disoriented, Shadow once again hesitantly crawled toward the edge of the bed. He got there just in time to see Jasper answering the door.
A part of his mind was trying to convince himself that Jasper hadn't gotten him from carving to hiding in less than fifteen seconds.
The aforementioned wolf had creaked the door open and was peering through the crack like a hermit. "Oh, it's you," was her emotionless response. She angled her head slightly as if peering behind the visitor and sighed. "That's quite a storm outside; you'd better come in."
"What, you mean you're actually inviting me in this time?" was the teasing response. Shadow froze in horror. He recognized that voice.
Shadow didn't need to be told to duck out of sight as Jasper opened the door and a grinning blue hedgehog strolled casually inside, drops of rain clinging to his soaking wet fur.
Why? Why? Why? Why him? And how? Jasper had…had recognized him. How in the world did a loner like Jasper know someone like Sonic? Did fate really hate him that much?
As though he'd read the baffled hedgehog's mind, Sonic directed his cheerful gaze toward Jasper. "Marco says hi, by the way."
Oh. Shadow barely refrained from banging his head on the bed frame in front of him.
At the mention of her oldest brother, Jasper's once-hostile demeanor slid off her features, replaced by a relaxed, almost warm, smile. "And Ashes?"
Sonic grinned. "He sorta waved."
Jasper laughed quietly. "He always does."
The wolf then tugged a towel off a nearby rack and threw it to her guest while she strode over toward the kitchen. The whole time, she didn't so much as glance in Shadow's direction, acting as though he wasn't even there.
"So," Jasper said as she opened the fridge, "How are my brothers anyway? Any news?"
"A little," Sonic replied, rubbing the towel across his fur. "Ashes got this boring desk job working for some company called 'Forward Associates'."
Jasper raised an eyebrow. "He got a job? Seriously? Does he enjoy it?"
"I think so," The hedgehog answered, glancing upward in thought. "Apparently the boss is a real pain, but the work is fair and the pay is pretty good."
"What do they do, anyway?"
Sonic shrugged. "I dunno. I heard something about 'writing schedules for building contractors', but the rest of it went right over my head."
Jasper grinned. "Doesn't everything?"
"Hey!" he protested, pretending to look offended in spite of his smile. "I can learn!"
Jasper raised an eyebrow.
"What, I can," he insisted.
Jasper rolled her eyes dramatically. "Yeah…You just keep telling yourself that." She grinned right back at him as she started fixing lunch. Sonic was one of those few people left in the world who actually enjoyed being made fun of, and didn't take anything personally. Playful banter was second nature to him, making him a pretty easy person to talk to.
The blue hedgehog stopped by her house once a year or so while on his constant travels, keeping her updated with events back in the city. Her brother, Marco, had befriended a friend of Sonic's about a year before she'd left. This friend, Amy Rose, almost immediately took a liking to him.
A few months later, Sonic came over to personally thank him. Of course, he'd been more than a little surprised that not only did Marco not recognize him, but he also didn't have a clue what Sonic was talking about. Amy usually made her affections bluntly obvious, but the wolf kept insisting she only thought of him as a friend. Of course, he was the only person who believed this.
On that thought, Jasper couldn't hold back a grin. "How's Amy doing, by the way? Is Marco still clueless as ever?"
Sonic snickered, tossing the towel across the chair and lounging back on the couch. "Yep. Of course, Amy's a whole lot better at hiding it then she used to be, but sometimes she gets this look like she wants to bang her head on the nearest brick wall."
The two laughed at this, sharing their own private joke before Jasper asked another question. "So, has Marco got a job, or is he still mooching off his poor, unfortunate friends?"
The two continued to converse in this manner for the next couple of hours. Jasper pelted the hedgehog with one inquiry after another. Sonic readily supplied the answers with out so much as blinking. They talked about everything, from the latest news with friends and family, to the teenage society's latest obsession with vampires. "I mean, he sparkles! What kind of guy sparkles?" Shadow had never seen the blue blur stay in the one place for so long.
The conversation's ebb and flow slowly died down, and there were a few minutes of a contented silence. After awhile, Sonic spoke. "You know, we really miss ya back home, especially your brothers." He turned to look at her, his smile gone. "Are you ever coming back?"
Jasper paused, considering. When she replied, her voice was quiet, and slightly confused. "I will," she promised, "Eventually. You know, two months ago I would've just said, 'Hold on, let me pack'. Now though…Something's keeping me here."
Shadow, who'd been practically falling asleep with boredom, suddenly pricked up his ears with startled confusion. She was talking about him.
"But," Sonic protested, also confused. "How can you stand it, being up here all by yourself?"
Jasper shrugged. "I like my space," she replied. "At least, until recently…"
Sonic raised an eyebrow. "What happened recently?"
Jasper squirmed slightly. "I met someone."
As she'd expected, Sonic immediately grinned. "What kind of someone?" he asked, laughter in his voice.
Jasper's ears reddened. "Not that kind of someone."
"Then why's he keeping you here?" Sonic pointed out, still grinning.
Jasper frowned. "What makes you think it's a 'he'?" she demanded.
"Because you could never really stand the female species, which is kinda weird if you ask me."
"Well, I didn't ask you. I just don't like how critical they are of each other, Amy being the sole exception. Men are more easygoing."
"So," Sonic probed, "Why's he keeping you here?"
Jasper hesitated. "Well…He's…uh…"
"Interesting?" Sonic supplied, his tone still mocking.
"Well, yeah," Jasper replied, "But he's not-I mean that's not why…I…H-He's…." She paused to gather her thoughts, wondering why she felt so flustered. "He's like a mystery," she finally said. "I just haven't figured him out yet. That's all."
Sonic grinned, his green eyes dancing with laughter. "Riiiiiiiight." Then he ducked as a cushion sailed over his head.
Shadow blinked. A mystery, huh?
Sonic didn't stay long after that. The storm had cleared up, and he was eager to be on his feet again. "Well, it was nice seeing you again," he told her, standing up with a stretch. "I'll tell your bros you said hi."
"You do that," Jasper agreed, shooing him out the door. "I'll see you later."
At the door, however, Sonic pause and turned with a smirk to whisper in her ear. "Oh, and tell Shadow that if he wanted to hide from me, he probably shouldn't of leaned over the edge like an enthusiastic six-year-old."
He was gone before she could blink.
Shadow watched Jasper curiously as she turned away from the door, muttering swearwords under her breath. "What'd he say?" he asked her.
For a second, Jasper froze like a deer in the headlights. Then, she squeaked, "Nothing! It wasn't important!" and hurried over toward the kitchen and out of his sight.
Shadow frowned suspiciously, then shook his head. "Crazy wolf."
Two seconds later, she backtracked and looked up at him curiously. "By the way, how exactly do you know Sonic?" she asked.
Shadow glared at her. "What makes you think I know him?" he demanded.
Jasper rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. I know recognition when I see it. Besides, he mentioned you."
Shadow frowned slightly, his eyes becoming distant. "I tried to kill him once. Three times, actually."
Jasper stared, wondering how the heck he could mention that so casually. It took her a moment to find her voice again. "So…You're enemies?"
"Rivals, actually," he corrected.
"Aaaaand, why were you fighting?"
"I was trying to destroy the planet."
Jasper stared again, trying to wrap her mind around what he was saying. And he thought she was crazy. "So," Jasper clarified, "You're…not, anymore, right?"
Shadow frowned at her, clueless. "Not what?"
"Trying to destroy the world. Because if you are, I probably shouldn't be helping you get your strength back."
Shadow was quiet for a m oment. "None of your business," he growled.
Jasper frowned and crossed her arms. "Stripes, if you don't tell me, I will personally turn you over to the government so that you can tell them."
She was joking, of course, but history and statistics alike have proven that men have a tendency to be clueless.
Shadow immediately stiffened and his eyes fell to the floor.
He couldn't go back. Not there. Not to the government. The thought of it terrified him. GUN had destroyed everything, killed his best friend, massacred innocents just to get to him…If she turned him in, he'd go back to suspended animation, where he was at his weakest. He'd been conscious every second, the scene of Maria's death playing over and over…
"Or not…" Jasper muttered, peering at him intently. The same hedgehog who smiled about his memories also seemed terrified of them. Something had happened, she knew this for certain. What, she didn't know, but he'd tried to destroy the planet. Was that still his goal? Was all of the burning hatred she'd seen before going to destroy everything she knew and loved? Or was he just lost, and if so…could she ever find him?
After a moment of silence, she climbed the ladder and joined him on the bed, studying him. He didn't look up.
Shadow flinched when she spoke his name. It was so rarely used, and was voiced with a quiet seriousness, yet it was a gravity laced with empathy.
The wolf leaned close to him, speaking softly, her eyes boring into him, every gesture and tone radiating a deep understanding. "Who are you?" she asked him, her hand brushing against his face before gently tilting his chin, forcing him to meet her eyes. "What kind of person am I sheltering?"
Shadow's heart thudded. She was doing it again. One moment, she was the enemy, and now…Shadow felt his barrier slip.
"I…I don't know."
His words were unexpected to the both of them, filled with such a raw honesty that he didn't even know he possessed.
Jasper stared into his eyes for a long time, the intensity and depth of her gaze making him feel vulnerable.
Then, she smiled warmly, her eyes glowing. "I suppose we'll just have to figure it out then," she murmured.
Maybe her guest wasn't as lost as he seemed. Maybe he wasn't completely buried under his anger. Maybe, if she dug deep enough…Maybe she could find him.
Me: That last line drips with cheeeeeese…..Oh well. I did my best.
Shadow:I still hate this chapter.
Jasper: *grins, leans on his shoulder* Why? Because you actually showed emotion?
Shadow: *growls* I was out of character!
Me: So? People love sappy scenes. Deal with it.
Shadow: *folds arms* Care to explain why you took two months to write the last paragraph?
Me: *tackles* SHHHHHH!
Jasper: She was working on other stories. None of which she finished, but still…
Me: You're just getting back at me for this chapter, aren't you?