Author's Note: Set after Sonic Heroes
After the final battle with the Metal Overlord, Metal Sonic's most powerful form, Shadow asked Rouge about his past. She told Shadow everything that she knew. It didn't take long for the memories to flood back to Shadow. But not all of them. That's when Rouge told him to go to the ARK.
And that's where he went.
Shadow stood in the room that overlooked the earth. He took a few moments to look at the bright blue orb of life below and contemplate. His mind was racing after all of the information he had to process. Despite that, he was also at ease. Shadow gazed out of the window with a placid expression. Then he looked down at the picture in his hand. An old, crumpled photograph of Maria and Gerald.
Shadow held out his arm and let his hand hover in front of him. He loosened his grip on the photo and watched it flutter side to side before touching the floor and staying there. The hedgehog looked down at it, then closed his crimson eyes in acceptance.
"Goodbye forever, Shadow the Hedgehog."
He muttered those words with his soft-spoken voice. Then, he turned and walked out of the room.
The ARK was eerily quiet. There was a quiet hum from lighting and machinery. But nothing else. Shadow pulled his arms up to his chest and wrapped them around himself. He remembered a time when the ARK was full of scientists and the atmosphere was lively. Everyone seemed to love Shadow. Everyone and everything was perfect. But those memories made Shadow shiver, because he knew they weren't true.
They were all lies.
Shadow had looked at the database in the ARK. After reading through the information, two things added up in his mind. The date of the ARK raid came before the date of his birth.
What Rouge had said was all true. His memories were all lies.
He'd found the photo of Gerald and Maria. He stared at Maria's face, into her eyes. The girl felt so familiar. Shadow felt memories of their relationship flood back, and it hurt him. Then it hurt him even more to think that it shouldn't have hurt, because none of it was real. It was all fabricated by Gerald just to fuel Shadow's passion for destroying the Earth. The rage that Shadow felt wasn't his own. It was Gerald's.
His only real memories were the ones he had after his release from Prison Island.
Who was he before? Was he anyone?
Shadow realised that his only real life was filled with nothing but hatred and fighting, and then fighting against that hatred. Then whatever happened that long day with Rouge and Omega.
Shadow's head felt light and his body heavy. He clutched his stomach. The pain inside of his made his muscles tremble. This would happen every so often, but he'd accepted it already. Perhaps Gerald didn't expect Shadow to take this long to destroy the earth and only gave him a limited time. With every few hours, the pain grew worse. But nothing on the database had mentioned this.
When Shadow returned to Earth. As he looked up, he felt as if he was breathing in the sky. It was as blue as it was from above. Just what Maria wanted to see.
Shadow didn't know anymore. He turned his head to look around him. It was time to find Rouge. And he knew where to find her.
"You found my club," Rouge said slyly from behind the counter of the bar. Rouge and the shelves behind her were illuminated by bright overhead lights, yet the rest of the place had a dim, pink glow to it. It was an atmosphere Shadow had never experienced before.
"What do you do at this club?" Shadow said and looked around. There were tables with chairs around it, and a few machines at the side of the large room. They were lit up with many bright colours and had screens on them. The room was clean and empty of people.
"I serve my customers," Rouge said. "Whilst they drink and have a good time."
Shadow looked at Rouge with a blank expression and blinked.
"Yes." Rouge rested her arm on the bar surface and leaned forward. "Come and sit down."
Shadow pointed his confused gaze to the stools attached to the ground in front of the bar. They were taller than the ones at the tables. When he walked over to one of the stools, the height of it reached his chin.
"Sorry, they mostly accommodate human sizes."
"Because that's who most of my customers are," Rouge said. "Come on. Surely this isn't too hard for the Ultimate Life Form."
Shadow closed his eyes and hummed a small growl in his throat. He didn't know what those words meant to him anymore.
He grabbed onto the seat and pulled himself onto it. Then he balanced himself to face Rouge.
"So, what are you drinking?"
"Where are the 'customers'?" Shadow asked.
"I'm not open yet. Now, what do you want to drink?"
Shadow looked at Rouge, mouth tight shut and thinking hard.
"Do you want a list of choices?" Rouge asked whilst smirking.
"Will they hurt?"
Rouge raised an eye ridge at Shadow.
"Depends how strong they are… I guess?" she said hesitantly.
Shadow closed his eyes and took in a deep breath.
Shadow heard the clinking of glass against glass and then the pouring of liquid. Then, something clanked right in front of him. He opened his eyes. There was some kind of cone shaped liquid holder in front of him. He tilted his head to look at it. It has a long, thin spine to hold up the cone of liquid, and then a large, flat bottom. Strange.
"It's a Martini."
Shadow nodded his head and stared at it.
"It's nice," he commented and continued looking at it.
Shadow looked at Rouge in confusion again. Wasn't this thing called a 'drink' and now he was being told to 'drink' it.
Shadow picked up the glass delicately by its stalk and tipped it slightly to examine how it would react. Some of the liquid dripped over the sides. He looked at the small pool of moisture on the smooth surface. It didn't do anything.
Rouge folded her arms and huffed with impatience.
"Can I touch it?" Shadow asked.
"Of course you can! Shadow, what's wrong with you!?" Rouge snapped. Shadow set the drink down again.
"It's green," Shadow said. "I thought that it would… do something."
"Shadow, it's not some form of deadly acid! It's alcohol!" Rouge said. "Have you never had alcohol before?"
"What have you had before?"
Shadow just stared at Rouge. He had no answer. He looked down, thinking. Had he ever come across a glass like this with similar liquid before?
"I'll just give you a water," Rouge sighed and turned to the surfaces behind her.
Shadow flinched and watched her.
"I… don't want to get wet."
Wow, Shadow thought to himself. Bars were strange.
Rouge set down a clear glass cylinder filled with an also clear liquid. Then she stood with her hands on her hips and looked at Shadow with a judging expression.
"Aren't you thirsty?" she asked. Shadow stared at her, feeling nervous. Alarm bells went off in his head. He couldn't make sense of anything.
"I don't know what any of this means!" Shadow exclaimed and brought his hands up to his head as his palms shook violently. Rouge's eyes widened. Shadow stared at her with a pleading look is. "I don't know what a drink is and what a thirsty is! I'm sorry! I-I'll try to better to join in with your club!"
"Oh… Shadow…" Rouge said, her voice was hoarse with sadness. Her ears drooped. "You really are an android."
There was silence for a few moments.
"When you asked about your past… I had faith that you were the real one," Rouge explained. "But… maybe not."
"NO! I'm not an android! I feel pain! I am real-"
Shadow stopped. 'Real'. He didn't feel real. He felt real in the sense that was an organic creature… but not like a real person. His identity was fake. It was hard to say with absolute truth that he was 'the real thing', when there was no 'real thing'. Just who was Shadow meant to be.
"I'm not an android. I bleed. I feel," Shadow said firmly.
"You could be an advanced android," Rouge said.
"I-I do feel! My head hurts! My muscles won't stop shaking! I f-feel as though I'm going to pass out any second! And this pain in my stomach keeps getting worse! Was THAT programmed into me to trick me!?" Shadow exclaimed.
Then, a loud rumble sounded from Shadow's stomach. He clutched it, shivered and bent over.
"R-rouge… I-I don't think I have much time left. I'm sorry," he rasped. Rouge walked out from behind the counter and over to Shadow. She stopped in front of him and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Shadow. Do you know what 'hungry' means?" she asked softly. Shadow shook his head feebly whilst looking down at his knees. "And you don't know what thirsty means. Is your mouth dry?"
"Yes! Look!" Shadow said and wiped the mouth on his muzzle.
Shadow bit his tongue. He hadn't thought about the inside of his mouth before.
Rouge reached for the glass of water. Shadow watched as she put the ridge of the glass against her mouth, opened her mouth very slightly, and tipped the glass so that the liquid went inside. His eyes widened with fascination. Then, Rouge took the glass away from her face and passed it to Shadow.
"You… just… hold in there?" Shadow asked, leaning forward to stare at Rouge closely.
"I swallowed it."
Shadow looked disgusted. He felt disgusted. And Rouge was expecting him to do it?
"It will feel natural if you try," Rouge encouraged. So, Shadow did the same. He bought the ridge of the glass close to him and tipped the water into his mouth. Shadow felt nervous. He spat the water back into the glass.
"Shadow! Prove to my that you're not an android and swallow that water!" Rouge exclaimed.
Shadow tried again and gulped the water. It just sat there in his mouth. He was afraid. Maybe he was an android and he would explode. But he knew he wasn't. So he did it. His reflexes kicked in and his throat seemed to suck up the liquid. It vanished down the hole. Shadow opened his mouth and gasped. It was gone. Down. He looked down at his torso. He imagined a torso sized tank inside of him, now with a bit of space used up.
"Gerald didn't put the right memories into you," Rouge said. "What do you remember of your past?"
Shadow felt his heart twist. Then he wondered if the liquid has passed it. Maybe his heart was wet.
"Maria. She was nice." Shadow felt his eyes sting.
Those memories were fake.
"GAH! It's coming out again!" Shadow growled and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. His cheeks were wet because his eyes were leaking. "Wait…" he rasped. "This has happened before."
Rouge looked at Shadow with a sympathetic expression.
"It wasn't a lot though. It must have been all I had," Shadow explained weakly. "Will these keep happening? If I swallow the water?"
"No, Shadow. You're crying. And that has nothing to do with drinking water," Rouge said. Then she sniggered. She covered her mouth to try and hold back her laughs. Then she glanced at Shadow worriedly. "I'm sorry, Shadow."
Shadow shook his head frantically.
"What is it?"
"Y-you're like a little toddler. You've got so much to learn. And I just realised… I have to do it. I have to look after you, Shadow," she said, voice breaking through her laughs. "You're the Ultimate Life Form."
"I'm nothing!" Shadow yelled.
Rouge's laughs stopped, and her eyes filled with guilt as she looked up at Shadow.
"I'm great at what I can do! But what good is that if I literally can't do anything else!" he screamed. He grabbed the edge of the bar surface and pushed himself back. He stumbled to the floor, nearly falling onto his tail.
"It just shows what Gerald felt about me! I thought he loved me! But he didn't! I was just a some kind of living bomb set to detonate and do nothing else afterwards!" Shadow exclaimed. He grasped at the sides of his head and shut his eyes tight. "I-I'm not even that. The eclipse cannon was the bomb. I was just the deliverer." He fell to his knees. "I'm nothing."
Rouge stepped forward towards Shadow, then bent down onto her knees. She grabbed Shadow's hands and pulled them from the sides of his head. She felt them right and looked at his eyes, intensely. Shadow opened his eyes and looked into hers.
"Shadow… you're not nothing. You're free of the chains that Gerald put you in. You can be anything you want to be. And I will be here with you until you stop feeling like nothing, and feel like someone," Rouge pleaded. "You're the Ultimate Life Form. You're capable of so much."
"Even… drinks?" Shadow asked.
Rouge giggled quietly.
"Yes. And I'm sure you'll can handle food as well," Rouge said.
"Food?" Shadow tilted his head.
"The thing that will make your stomach stop hurting."
"Please teach me."
Shadow found chewing to be a chore at first, but he got the hang of food very quickly. Suddenly, he felt as if he was meant to do this all of this life. Like there were parts of him that was made for it, and he'd just fulfilled some of his destiny. Rouge had given him a quick lesson in the digestive system and other things. Shadow was quick to understand.
"And how often will I need to do all of this? Shadow asked.
"Several times a day. It depends how hungry you get," Rouge explained.
"Have you shown me all of the foods yet?" Shadow also asked. He looked down at the table they were sitting at. This time, they were in an apartment kitchen instead of at the bar. Rouge took the night off and made her staff take over the bar instead of her having to work. So instead, she could help Shadow. They sat upstairs, listening to the faint sound of bass leaking through the thick ceiling, which was Rouge's apartment floor.
On the table in front of them was a half eaten pizza, some fries, some salad, a fizzy drink, and a milkshake.
"No, Shadow. That's just the best I could get from the pizza place next door," Rouge said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg… in a huge ocean of food!"
Shadow nodded and tried to understand.
"Oh, Shadow, I'm going to make you try everything! All of the take-outs! All of the restuarants! And I'm going to cook for you! We can have something new everyday!" Rouge chirped excitedly and clasped her hands together.
Shadow looked down at the round, flat, chewy, greasy thing in the shallow square box in front of him.
"That 'pizza' was nice. Was this the only one?" Shadow asked.
"No. There plenty more. We can order one any time."
"Good because I liked it. I want to eat it again," he said.
"After we try other things."
"When will we finish trying all of the things?" Shadow asked.
"Not for a long time," Rouge said. Shadow looked at Rouge in discomfort.
"But… I want the pizza soon," he said, sounding disheartened, but accepting. Rouge sighed, but smiled.
"Fine. Here's a deal. Every time you try something new, I'll get you a pizza the next day as a reward," Rouge said. "Until you get sick and tired of it."
"Deal," Shadow said, then he smirked and folded his arms. "But I won't get sick of it."
Author's Note: I wanted to play with the idea of Shadow's memories being fake, and that he was just a blank slate created by Gerald to destroy the Earth. If he was only fed the relevant fake memories of Maria and the ARK raid, maybe other less significant memories would have been included. Therefore, Shadow would be clueless about how to look after himself outside of battle.