AN: I wrote this almost two years ago and just now felt like posting it. I was going to post this as a sequel to "Bonds," but decided to keep the two stories separate. That was how they were written, and that's how they'll stay.

"Fragility"

Shadow's hands are warm, much more so than usual, and it's off-putting. He can't help but wonder what Shadow's been doing all this time – keeping the fire under his own feet lit? Rebuilding another person just as he helped rebuild Sonic? Perhaps the reason that he's been so distant lies in his hands.

"Hey." Sonic bats them away, picking at the defenses that Shadow has never once let down. "What's up? You don't seem like yourself."

"On the contrary," Shadow replies unnaturally quickly, staring blankly at a spot on the wall just over Sonic's shoulder. "I've been putting up a front all this time. You have never known who I really am."

Sonic's heart sinks, weighed down by the unconquerable silence that Shadow has reinstated. He can't be slipping again, not now, not after all the work that they've done. After that night, that surreal first night on which he and Shadow had slipped beneath the other's skin and merged, Sonic had believed that they would never again run the risk of failing to trust the other; and they hadn't, not for a few years, at least.

But then, out of nowhere, Shadow had started to falter. He had woken Sonic up in the middle of the night four, then five, then fifteen nights in a row, screaming out strings of wordless panic at the top of his lungs. Any attempts to soothe him were always met with a harsh, firm denial that anything was wrong. Even the gentlest of touches were rejected, denying Sonic access to the connection that had facilitated their relationship in the first place. After about a month of failed attempts to make his presence known to whatever was raging inside Shadow's head, Sonic had moved himself into the bedroom across the hall. Although it felt odd to be away from Shadow, Sonic could ensure that he at least got a few hours of sleep each night.

Not long after that, Shadow's nightly episodes extended into the daytime. To Sonic, it seemed like they lasted longer and longer every day. Shadow had started calling out of work and lying in bed all day on a semi-regular basis, staring mindlessly at the wall for hours on end. The Shadow that he knew showed himself for maybe an hour each day. Even then, Sonic hadn't wanted to believe that Shadow was falling apart all over again.

Even now, as the truth of his counterpart's state of being stares him in the face, he doesn't want to see it for what it is.

His persistent fingers sink into his skin and leave faint red marks in their wake, leaving Sonic with a physical reminder of his identity. He bites down on his lip in an effort to hold back the mirrored screams and constructs his mask of reliance, the pillar of calmness that has held Shadow up for the past three years.

"It's okay," he whispers, nuzzling his neck in a display of affection and reassurance. "It's all okay, Shadow."

Just as he expected, Shadow struggles wildly. "Let go of me," he snaps, reaching for the other's face as if to squeeze it, thereby draining it of the juice that he has fed on ever since he attached himself to his heart. The horror that Sonic apparently wears beneath his mask is potent enough to sting Shadow's bones.

"Please," he whispers, his eyes shedding their outer layer of coldness to reveal the latent emotion beneath. "Just walk away now. Then you won't have to deal with me ever again."

"That's not what I want, though." In the middle of reaching for his shoulders, he remembers the other's rational wish and lets his hands fall limp. "I don't want that at all. I want to help you, and I always have. That's why I let things happen between us. That's why I never pushed you away. Even then, I knew that you were just as broken as I was, and I wanted to change all of that. Do you really expect me to give up on you—on us—just like that?"

"Yes," Shadow insists, tearing his eyes away from him. "Because there's nothing there, Sonic. Stop lying to yourself. There's nothing there for us, and there never was. "

"That's not true." He follows Shadow's outward gaze, unable to ignore the disheartening desperation that has begun to rise within his stomach. "There's no such thing as nothing. You, of all people, should know that."

The reply that he's been expecting doesn't come. Shadow's eyes glaze over and then shut down completely, obliterating Sonic's hopes of rebuilding the bridge that has been burned. Still, he continues to draw small circles in the ash that he holds in his arms, relishing the sooty warmth that clings to his fingers. He briefly touches his chapped lips to Shadow's freezing cheek, finding no reassurance in the bitter caress of cold, and thinks back on how far they've come.

Only now does Sonic realize that all this time, they've been dancing to a soundless song.