so this fic is actually a birthday present to one of my best pals, arctic-starflowers! she's an amazing writer and friend and i wish her the best for her sweet 16 ;) anyways enjoy it's got plenty of shadow angst hehe


One.

The ARK feels like a coffin at night.

When all the scientists have gone to their dorms and the labs have been shut down and there's simply silence—when even Gerald has gone to bed—the silence feels lethal. It feels suffocating and wrong and unsettling. It makes it hard for Shadow to sit still.

He was never really designed for sleep anyways, which he supposes is fine. It's just a waste of eight hours. And really, he wouldn't have a problem with it, except for the fact that everyone else has to sleep, so he's left with nothing but the creeping silence and eerie darkness and the stars that are just out of reach.

But then sometimes—Maria is roused, for whatever reason, and she'll decide that maybe she won't sleep either. Shadow always chastises her and eventually she always doses off but… But in the meantime she'll just sit with him, and watch the stars with him, and squeeze his hand to will just a little more oxygen into his lungs.

And suddenly his world is filled with life again.

"I wonder what the stars look like from down there," she murmurs one night, propped against his shoulder as her wide eyes wander. "They must be a million times brighter."

Shadow shrugs. "When we get down there, I'd hope that we would be more preoccupied with forgetting about space, wouldn't you? I'm already sick of it."

Maria purses her lips and casts him a teasing glance. "There's no need to forget about this place! I'm tired of it too, but at least we've got Grandpa. And ice cream."

"Right. And ice cream."

She snickers for a moment before they fall back into sleepy silence. He can feel her weight pressing more and more into his side as every second ticks by and her consciousness slowly slips away. He nearly starts to lead her back to her bedroom before she shifts again, to gaze right into his eyes. Shadow stills.

"We will get there one day, won't we? Grandpa is always saying 'any day now.'" A warm, soft smile pulls at Maria's lips and she looks angelic, with her tender voice and doting gaze. "I bet they've almost found the cure. What do you think, Shadow?"

He feels something hard and painful wedge its way right into his heart. It's not that simple, he wants to say. Her disease—it's been incurable for decades. And of course, when she's with Gerald he's always laughing and content, telling her empty promises before sending her away to play with Shadow before she can ask too many questions. But Maria doesn't see Gerald when it's just him and Shadow. When he's frustrated and crumbling and screaming at the walls.

Shadow has realized, a long time ago, that even if they find a cure, Maria will be long gone before they do. Even Gerald seems blind to this fact but it's so resolutely and horribly true—he sees it in the way that they just meet dead end after dead end, every single day.

Therefore, as the Ultimate Cure, Shadow has decided resolutely that he will do the best he can to make sure Maria's life is still worthwhile. Still full of love and joy even when it's clouded in something grim.

He sucks in a tight breath and pulls a thin smile. "I'm sure it won't be much longer."


Two.

He feels so angry. Every moment that passes by more frustration wells up inside of him, and it's getting to the point where he feels like he might burst at the seams. He wants to scream and cry and run away because Maria's gone and he hardly even remembers who she is. Just a distant memory, a ghost locked up far away in the back of his mind, leaving nothing behind but vague recollections of her soft voice and wide blue eyes. He just wants to do what's best for her. Avenge her.

Sonic yelps as Shadow's fist collides into his cheek and he's sent flying across the clearing to land against the tree. The hero crumbles to the ground and wheezes for air, trembling as he glowers at Shadow.

They're locked in a standstill, the humidity of the jungle permeating around them and soaking them with sweat. Shadow pants for a few moments and watches Sonic warily, his sluggish mind trying to calculate his next move. The timer will be running out soon and he doesn't have much more time to spar with this blue idiot.

"What's wrong, faker?" the speedster calls between heavy breaths, as he slowly brings himself to his feet. He holds his fists up again and seizes into a fighting stance, but he clearly doesn't have the energy in him anymore. "Cat got your tongue?"

Shadow rolls his eyes and starts to brace himself for another round of equally matched punches and spindashes when—his communicator crackles to life, stark and piercing against the mute forest surrounding them.

"… Can you guys read me? There's a problem. I'm—stuck in the vault."

It's Rouge.

"Shit," comes Eggman's voice, next. "Shadow, you need to get the emeralds out of there before the island blows up!"

Sonic's eyes bulge because he can hear the communicator too and clearly isn't too thrilled with the doctor's words. "Blows up?!" he cries, and in a sudden flash of blue he's already disappeared.

And Shadow just—he doesn't know what to do, because they've surely only got so many seconds left and they need the emeralds to exact their plan but what if he—what if he gets caught in the explosion? What if he dies, pitifully, stuck on this damned island with Rouge and utterly forgotten to the world before he can prove to Maria that he's strong enough to do this?

His head pulses and his vision flickers out for a moment as fuzziness swarms around him and his ears start to ring. When he blinks he sees glimpses of blood splattered against a pristine blue dress and sobs wracking a tiny, innocent body that never deserved to be hurt. He sees the light leaving her eyes and he's stuck, he can't do anything, he couldn't save her—

Shadow's already warped into the vault before he realizes it. Rouge is slumped against the wall in defeat, cradling the trio of emeralds like they're her babies, and she blinks in shock at him. Like she wasn't expecting him to actually save her.

She opens her mouth to say something but he's already rushing forward and grabbing her wrist, muttering the magic words under his breath. White light wraps around them and in the blink of an eye, they're back on the ARK.

Shadow rasps for breath and stumbles forward against the window overlooking Mobius, suddenly feeling unfairly weak and disoriented. He's too scared to close his eyes because he doesn't think he can stand the thought of seeing Maria again, so miserable and far away and dead, just on the other side of the glass, as he's catapulted away to another world where he'll just forget about her anyways.

He feels sick.

There are tentative footsteps behind him, definitive clicks of high heels, before a silky glove lands on his shoulder. His entire body tenses up but he's too shaken to pull away from the touch.

"Why so melancholy?" Rouge asks, and she's trying to keep her tone light but he can sense the concern hidden beneath. He turns to look at her, scarlet eyes drenched in some long buried agony, and it's enough to make her startle and withdraw her hand. She steps forward to stand beside him, and settles against the railing to gaze down at the planet.

Shadow watches her for a second, studying the silent delight on her face because this is clearly her first time in space and what a marvel it is to be here, coated in a blanket of stars and all of everything and nothing. There's something endearing about her that he's drawn to, despite himself.

Teal eyes peer back at him and now it's his turn to stare out the window. His gaze is stony and his posture stiff. "That was surprising of you to do, Shadow—to come and rescue me. That Chaos Control of yours is pretty nifty."

Shadow looks back at her and there's a pause caught between them. She smirks and looks almost fascinated by him, like he's some enigma she's trying to figure out. But behind her smugness and the witty treasure-hunter-attentiveness held in her gaze, he can read the gratitude she wears on her sleeve. It's like she's decided, as of now, that they're more than just two people stuck together by circumstance, working for the same goal. They're—comrades. Indebted to one another.

He can't take it.

Gruffly, he tears his gaze away and turns on his heel to make his way out of the room. Something tender and weak, deep inside him, wants to tell her about Maria, and how scared he was—is—but he just can't.

He can't deal with caring about someone, anyone, not after all of this. Because the last person he cared about was murdered in cold blood right before his eyes, torn right from his arms, and now he's here, a broken echo of what he once was, just trying to make things right. He can barely remember what she looks like anymore.

"I only did it for the Chaos Emeralds," he sneers, his voice devoid of any emotion. His mind reeling with so much emotion. It's better this way—cutting off any bond she may attempt to form with him. He doesn't owe her the truth. He doesn't owe her anything. "Not for you."

Rouge wavers behind him. When she speaks her voice is considerably softer."Oh. Well I just thought—"

Eggman decides to barge into the room, clearing his throat loudly. "Everything's ready to go, Shadow."

"We've only got six of the seven emeralds, though," Rouge protests, still lingering by the window and still quieter than before.

Shadow disregards her and follows the doctor through the door. "It's more than enough for the demonstration. Let's get this show on the road."

His head still aches with broken memories.


Three.

Shadow wears a scowl as he's practically carried back to his apartment. It's pathetic, really—humiliating. "Isn't this a bit excessive?"

Sonic narrows his eyes as he helps him up the stairs, and a grin breaks across his face as he struggles and limps up each step. "Nah. Eggbreath really did a number on you back there."

He grunts as they reach the top, and leans just slightly more against Sonic's side, an instant reprieve from the pain shooting up from his ankle that he will absolutely not admit to. "I'm fine."

Sonic sizes him up, before smirking and hopping backwards, relinquishing his grip on his companion. Shadow teeters over and hisses as he wars with himself over placing weight on his bad foot or giving up and falling to the ground. Sonic snickers and decides to return to his side to support him again.

"Hm. Doubtful."

"Shut up."

The speedster raps his knuckles on the door, and there's a muffled voice on the other side for a few seconds before its pulled open and Rouge appears, clearly worn down from a long day of G.U.N. paperwork. She raises an eyebrow at the two hedgehogs, both battered and bruised.

She crosses her arms, sighs, and leans against the doorframe. "Was this your doings or Eggman's?"

"The doctor attempted to rob a bank, so we stopped him," Shadow answers, bluntly. He reeks of annoyance and exhaustion, mingled lazily into an overall sense of minor disgruntlement. Both Sonic and Rouge know full well that he—probably—secretly appreciates their care for him.

The blue blur looks at the bat cheekily. "Yeah. If we'd sparred, I can guarantee that Shads would be in a much worse state."

Shadow shoots him a glare and kicks the toe of his sneaker. "Don't push your luck, faker."

"Any time, dear," Sonic teases in a saccharine tone, chuckling as Rouge leads them inside.

They ease Shadow down onto the sofa, and she rushes to the kitchen to get an icepack as Sonic starts fluffing up some pillows to prop beneath Shadow's foot. As he does so, he is cast an icy look from hardened red eyes. He elects to ignore it and study the cozy apartment. It's dark and far from homely—as expected from Team Dark—but he doesn't miss the occasional picture of the gang up on the wall, or the corner full of computer chargers for Omega, or the floral recliner chair clearly picked out by Rouge, or the single, blue iris flower sitting in the windowsill.

Irises were always Shadow's favorite. Something about hope. He'd have to ask Amy about it—she was always the most knowledgeable on flowers and their meanings.

Rouge emerges from the kitchen with a bag of ice and Sonic puts a stop to his train of thought so he can place the pillow beneath Shadow's foot. His rival sneers at him but it holds no true malice, so Sonic merely smiles at him.

As the bat places down the ice the striped hedgehog freezes for a moment and grinds his teeth, before he relaxes again, and glares disdainfully at the ceiling. "This is completely unnecessary. It's not even swollen. It barely hurts at all."

(It actually kind of hurts a lot, but that's confidential, according to his pride and dignity.)

Sonic shrugs and stares down at his ankle. "Seems pretty bruised, to me."

Shadow stops for a moment before furrowing his brows. "My fur is black."

"Oh, stop being such a grumpy old man," Rouge drawls, as she sits down in her favorite floral chair. "Let us coddle you for once."

"I'm not a baby."

"Then stop whining about it!" Sonic laughs from the kitchen, already making himself some popcorn. He doesn't live here, per se—he doesn't really live anywhere—but he comes over often enough that he knows his way around the place and doesn't need to ask to help himself to food. Rouge turns on a movie and Sonic eventually returns with popcorn and some drinks, sitting down in front of the couch on the floor.

Shadow wants to protest more, but frankly he's pretty spent from the fight and the ice feels so nice against his throbbing ankle, so he doesn't. Besides, Rouge has decided to put on that old movie about the space ninjas with laser swords, and that's always been one of his favorites. The popcorn smells really good, too.

And if he dozes of thirty minutes into the film with a warm, safe feeling curled around his heart, and if Sonic decides to drape a blanket over him before he leaves, neither of them decide to say anything about it.


Four.

"Chaos Control!"

An orb of light bursts into existence before them, widening into a swirling blue portal they all decided would connect back to present-day Soleanna. Sonic takes a step back and whistles in awe at the miraculous thing.

Knuckles grunts and starts forward. "Finally. This place gives me the creeps. The lava monsters don't help."

"We've still got Eggman to deal with," Tails reminds, heading into the portal as well, but Knuckles is already gone.

Sonic wipes his brow and lingers back a moment to exchange a glance with Shadow. He's clearly anxious to leave this hellish place, and Shadow can't blame him. It's the culmination of some of their worst nightmares.

"See ya' around, Shads," he finally settles on. They nod at each other, all cordial and distant—exactly what Rouge will tease him about later—and leaps into the disc of light promptly.

Said bat flaps her wings and starts to take her leave. Shadow can see the stress weighing down her eyes and the sweat beading down her face from the scalding heat of the volcano. She wavers in the air, however, before going into the portal. Teal eyes pooled with—with something he can't really discern, watch him intently.

"You coming, slowpoke?"

He swallows thickly and glances down at his feet. His shadow is missing; his heart stutters and it's hard to stay calm.

Instead, he smiles tightly. Fake. "Right behind you."

Rouge stares for another moment, unsurely, before she turns and disappears. Shadow watches the portal, now alone in this apocalyptic wasteland, before the rift of Chaos Energy dissipates and it fades entirely.

Chills race down his spine and with a sharp inhale, he turns around.

Mephiles waits for him, in the shadows of the cavern. The churning magma lights up his face in a dreary, venomous way. Dead green eyes pierce right into Shadow and he suddenly feels very tiny and very lonely.

Part of him wishes he'd asked the others to stay behind, or just left altogether. But he—he has to do this. Alone. He has to.

And when he finds himself, later, standing on the beach—not alone but still just as anxious and scared—he wonders if this is better. If he deserves to have Rouge and Omega at his side as Mephiles melts away into the sand and flees.

Perhaps it's just the thoughts the demon had planted in Shadow's head, back in Crisis City. The horrible, poisonous idea that everyone—everyone—Shadow ever loved would turn against him because he was always doomed to be something horrible, something too powerful to be controlled.

He thinks back to the ARK and Eggman and the Biolizard. He thinks of the monster he could have become, and how he learned that he can be better. How Rouge and Sonic and the blissful peace of knowing the ARK wouldn't crash into the planet as he did, instead, showed him he can be better.

But what if it's not enough? Why can't he stop thinking about the city in ruins, devoured in flames and evil? Why can't he stop thinking about the idea of being in Mephiles' shoes, the king of the world, laughing as everyone bows before him or falls trying to stop him? Why can't he stop thinking about all of his friends turning their backs, disappointed and betrayed, because he'll inevitably just prove he can never be good enough?

Omega's words are haunting. Beady red optics stare at Shadow and all he can do is stare back, hopelessly, because it can't be true. Mephiles had to be lying, right? Surely he'd never—never do any bad. Not again. Not after…

"Shadow. The one that defeats and seals you in the future is me."

He can't—he can't breathe.

Rouge stamps her foot and balls up her fists. It feels like they've been standing here for hours, lost and afraid and broken. "It's not fair."

Omega shakes his head and flexes his steel claws uncertainly. "Eventually, when someone is seen as too powerful… They are seen as a threat."

Shadow has already turned his back to them, digging his nails into his palms to try and force back everything, the tears that swell in his eyes and the sobs that scratch at his throat, because he just can't. He can't lose everything again. Not again. Not when it's all been going so well.

"And the world becomes their enemy."

Something cracks inside of himself and his feet start moving, automatically. The sea breeze is harsh and it sends stray grains of sand skimming against his body, sharp and painful. The scent of salt in the air is intense and sickening.

Rouge calls out, softly, "Shadow?"

He stills. "I need to stop him."

She releases a trembling breath, and even though his back is to her, he can sense the distraught in her gaze. He just can't—he can't look at her.

"Even if you believe everyone in the world will be against you," she says, and she sounds firm this time. Resolute. "Know that I'll always stay by your side. Remember that."

Shadow bites his tongue and he feels so cold and puny and sad and he just—fuck. He really doesn't, can't, won't ever, but—"I will."

He hopes.


Five.

Shadow has decided that he, unequivocally, loves Mobius. He loves how open and free it is, how he can warp across the planet in a millisecond and go from sweltering tropical heat to a frigid tundra. He loves the people, all of them (sans only a select few) because they're all so different and lively and real.

He also decides, along with this decision, that he will protect Mobius with his life.

It's a bold choice, but after years of defending it and living and thriving in it, building on new experiences and growing from old, it seems obvious for him. Besides, Sonic seems to be committed to a similar decision, as well.

Their panting breaths mingle together in the cool, wispy air of the night as they settle down in the heart of Green Hill. These were some of Shadow's favorite days, where they dedicated hours solely to just racing each other around the planet. And it was never really a competition—more of an excuse to get out and enjoy one another's company.

Shadow thinks that lately he really enjoys Sonic's company, but it's not like he'd ever actually voice that. Instead he relishes in the peace as they recuperate after their run, and he sits back against the plush grass to gaze at the clear night sky.

Sonic sighs deeply, an easy smile on his face, as he fans out on the hill and does the same. There are a few minutes of quiet as they catch their breaths.

"How are Rouge and Omega?" his rival wonders, eventually. Small talk.

Shadow considers and huffs lightly. "Same as always. Annoying and clingy."

"But you love 'em anyways, right?"

He grins fondly. "… Sure." He swallows another greedy gulp of air. "And your friends?"

This sets Sonic off, because Chaos knows he could ramble for hours on just about any topic presented to him. "Well, Tails is doin' pretty fine, as usual. He's working on some new adjustments for the Tornado, I think. I dunno—I barely saw him this morning before I left to do my morning jog. He was pretty buried in his work, though, so I didn't wanna bug him much. And, uh, Knux is swell too. Off being grumpy and alone up there." He chuckles lightly and jabs a thumb up to the sky, searching it for a moment like he might actually spot the floating island. "He got mad at me the other day for using one of his emeralds to stop Eggman's mech, even though I totally gave it back right after! … A few hours later. Don't give me that look, I was just practicing my, uh, teleporting skills. It's no fair how naturally it comes to you."

Shadow rolls his eyes. "I was also trained in the arts of Chaos for years, back on the ARK."

"Yeah, well—" Sonic purses his lips to try and refute, but he just disregards it a moment later. "Whatever. Anyways, Amy's been helping Cream and Vanilla with their garden, and it's turning out really well! They've got some tomato plants now. And Silver…"

He tunes Sonic out, not to spite him, but simply because he'd exhaust himself keeping up with his constant babbling. Besides, he knows Sonic well enough to know he doesn't really care whether he really listens or not. He's probably the most relaxed, easy guy he knows.

The speedster goes on for a while until he finally seems to notice the distant look in Shadow's eyes, as he gazes up at the stars. He trails off and clears his throat.

"… Whatcha thinkin' about?"

The ebony hedgehog takes a moment to gather his words, before he simply settles on, "I like it here."

Sonic smiles. Not exactly the answer he'd been expecting, but intriguing nonetheless. "Yeah?"

Shadow nods, reminiscent. "Sometimes it's hard to believe there was a time where I wanted to destroy it all."

"Hey, now, mister." The hero sits up to glare coyly at him. "Don't you dare start self-loathing or blaming yourself for anything."

"It's not that," he says, waving him off. "It's just… strange to think about, I suppose."

There's a long pause where Sonic just stares at him, the playfulness leaving his eyes for a moment to be replaced with something undecided and pensive. He searches Shadow's face and finally asks, in a much more tender voice, "You ever feel scared, Shads?"

This startles him. He sits up, too, and frowns, because that would be a solid yes. He's scared of a lot of things. He's scared of death, of letting people down, of hurting someone he doesn't want to. He's scared of becoming something he's not, abandoning his friends, his friends abandoning him. He's scared he won't be able to protect the world he wants to keep safe, more than anything else.

But something lodges in his throat and it's hard to find his voice, so Shadow relents. "Not… really, no."

(He's so scared, of so many things. He's scared to admit it, too.)

Sonic's gaze falls and he hugs himself. "I wish I was as fearless as you, sometimes. You're always so—headstrong and brave. You don't let anyone get in your way."

Shadow knits his brows together. "You're brave too."

"I dunno." He smiles, but it's plastic and tight and he won't meet Shadow's eyes. "Sometimes I feel more like a coward than anything."

And something grips Shadow, intense and powerful, right in his core. He grabs Sonic's arm and stares at him, long and hard. Doesn't waver for a moment.

"You're the bravest person I've ever met."

And Sonic stares back, suddenly just as intense, a new lightness to him that Shadow isn't sure he's ever seen before. And then—then Sonic grabs him, too, and pulls him close and their lips collide, hard, and it's anything and everything Shadow's ever wanted. Sonic slides his arms around him and holds him close, never lets go, and Shadow just melts into him. His fur is softer than Shadow ever thought it'd be, and his hands so smooth against his back, and his lips so gentle yet needy as they suck at his bottom lip.

Shadow hums quietly into his mouth and runs his fingers through his blue quills and Sonic—he smiles against his lips, nearly laughs a little bit, filled purely with mirth and ecstasy. The whole world around them is fast asleep except for the dim moonlight shimmering over them and Shadow doesn't ever want it to end.

He decides, right then, that the one thing he loves more than the world is him.


(… One.)

It goes like this: Eggman wins, Sonic disappears, and Shadow finds himself standing before the G.U.N. commander in his office at four in the morning, two months deep into a war against a mad doctor and eldritch jackal.

He is reluctant to be there at all, but he's also one of the top agents and the commander certainly sounded urgent when he stirred him awake with this late night phone call. Shadow wishes more than anything, as he trembles slightly from exhaustion and fights to keep his eyes open, that he could go home and rest. He's got plenty of work to do—in regards to plotting how to take down Eggman and save the planet. And he needs energy to do so effectively.

The commander laces his fingers together over the top of his desk and looks Shadow up and down. "Agent Shadow," he regards with a cordial nod, and the hedgehog is barely cognizant enough to return the gesture. "You're probably wondering why I've called you here."

He simply stares and waits for the man to continue, because to be frank, he'd like this exchange to move along as quickly as possible.

"I'm sending you on a mission," he says, and wow, what a surprise. But then—"I apologize for calling you at such a late hour, but it is crucial. Nobody can know when or where or how you leave, or where your destination is. It's top secret."

Shadow crosses his arms. "What about Rouge? Omega?"

The commander narrows his gaze and leans forward, his voice cutting and sharp. "Nobody."

"Why so secretive?"

"Because, Agent Shadow." The commander sighs and gestures for him to take a seat on the opposite side of his desk, so he does. The commander lowers his tone before continuing, and Shadow has to lean in closer to hear him clearly. "I need you to be a double agent for me. You've already got past ties with Doctor Robotnik, no? You'll have to win over his trust and spy on him for the next few months to gather some intel for us."

And—Chaos. Shadow blinks and a frown sets in his face. "It won't work. He knows I'm against him."

"Find a damned way, agent," the commander snaps. "You're our only shot at this. Find a way to prove your loyalty to him. And in the meantime, you'll be sending us any important information you can find that could be beneficial to us. The world is falling apart, Shadow, and you're our last chance."

He hates—hates—everything about this because he can't even tell anybody. If he encounters them they're going to think he's just a traitor, because it's not entirely out of character for him, honestly, and—and he's just tired of being the one that nobody can trust.

But Shadow nods and accepts, and by dawn he's already at the doctor's doorstep.

It takes a considerable amount of convincing, which he achieves mostly with his superb acting skills and a bit of bribery that may or may not result with Eggman becoming the owner of three new Chaos Emeralds. Shadow will have to steal them back someday soon—preferably when he's not undercover on a top secret G.U.N. mission, though.

And the job itself is fine, he supposes. He hates having to stand around and listen to Eggman gloat constantly about how he's finally won, and how spectacular it is. He hates having to sit in the same room as Infinite, the same asshole that—murdered, kidnapped, erased from existence, who even fucking knows—his own boyfriend, and actually act civil. Be his subordinate. It's excruciating.

But all he's really tasked with is patrolling some major factories and making sure no resistance members steal or break anything. It's menial enough and Shadow knows it, because despite their barter and despite the show Eggman puts on, he knows that man is smarter than he seems and he knows he's onto him.

The first month drags by horribly slow and Shadow does his best to keep his head low. Because the last thing he needs is to draw attention to himself—be it from a wary doctor and jackal, or his oblivious friends.

He dreads seeing them. Rouge, Omega, any of them, really. This is the thing he's always feared, the thing that's haunted him since he met Sonic. The idea of running into them, the people that have endowed their trust into him, and watch the hurt and betrayal slowly dawn on their faces—he doesn't know if he can take it. It makes him want to claw off his skin and shrivel up and die.

Eventually Eggman seems to relent, though, because after several arduous weeks of playing guard dog, Shadow is suddenly called to visit the big bad wolf himself.

Standing before Infinite is truly something, when he's forced to just stand there and nod and smile like he doesn't wish he could punch him in the face.

"You needed me?" Shadow asks, ever docile. He clasps his hands behind his back so he can dig his nails hard into his palm and feel his knuckles turn white.

Infinite preens and it makes him feel sick. The asshole basks in the knowledge that Shadow the Hedgehog, the same man who tore him down and called him weak all those months ago before the war, is now bowing down to him.

"The doctor has a new task for you," he says simply, and gestures for the hedgehog to follow. He wavers for only a moment before doing so. "We've got something very exciting to show you. Just been," he waves his hand nonchalantly, "waiting for the right time, I suppose."

Shadow swallows the knot in his throat and bobs his head. "… I appreciate your trust in me."

From behind his silver mask, Shadow is positive that he's grinning ear to ear.

Infinite cocks his head. "Excellent. This way, then."

They exit the small office and round a corner, before heading deep into the bowels of the Death Egg. Their walk lasts several minutes and with each passing moment Shadow can't help but wonder if the walls are closing in, or if it's getting hotter and hotter. He wonders if they've finally found out his secret, and they're plotting to just lure him into a trap to execute him.

After trotting down a long flight of stairs, and through some special clearance doors only Infinite seems to have access to, the pair finds themselves in something Shadow would equate to a coliseum, except darker and emptier and instead of rows of seats, its prisoner cells.

He idly twirls a strand of Chaos energy around his fingers, still clasped behind him as he stares at Infinite's back. Would it really be compromising the mission if he just killed him right here? It'd certainly eliminate a major threat. And—

"Ah, here we are."

Shadow jolts from his thoughts as they come to a stop before a particular cell that—happens to actually hold an occupant.

From inside, a bruised and bloodied Sonic lights up as soon as he locks eyes with Shadow.

And then he sees the bland expression on Shadow's face, and the fact that he's standing beside Infinite, not attacking him, and his smile falters just a little bit. Shadow feels something in his chest akin to a fist ripping his heart straight out, arteries and nerves and all. He aches.

"Familiar faces, no?" Infinite wonders, a dark chuckle spilling from his lips. "Glad I could reunite you two. Now," he turns to Shadow. "The doctor's got a very important task for you, hedgehog. Get our little friend, here, to tell us where the Master Emerald is. We know he's friends with that echidna. But it's been three months and he still refuses to say a word."

Shadow lets his gaze drift back to Sonic, who now stares at him with this awful look on his face. He's so—confused and… almost appalled?

"You can do it, though, can't you? After all, you've got to show us how loyal you are. Words mean nothing in war."

The door is already being unlocked and Egg Pawns are dragging Sonic away, as he remains shackled and probably extremely inebriated with who knows what. His emerald eyes never stray from Shadow, and he searches him so keenly, studies him, like he's trying to figure out what the hell is happening.

He stares back at Sonic, just as intense, and tells Infinite, "I'd never betray you."

Infinite pats him on the back and ushers him into the center of the coliseum, which really isn't much more than a giant pit with a chair to tie Sonic up to, and a wall of torture weapons. It makes bile rise up Shadow's throat.

"Then prove it."

There's a heavy pause as Shadow stands there, just a few feet from a trembling Sonic as he stares at him with a hard boiled gaze. He can still sense Infinite's presence behind him, looming, waiting for him to slip up. So he doesn't.

"An emerald," Shadow says, disinterestedly. "Bring me one."

Infinite falters. "And what good would that do?"

"I am exceedingly skilled with Chaos Energy," he states, chin high. "If you want me to get information from him the most efficiently, I'll need an emerald to channel my power and hurt him the most."

Infinite falls silent and Shadow thrives off of it. It proves challenging to feign a smirk. Eventually he concedes, and disappears swiftly. He's back in a matter of seconds and slapping a bright teal gem into the agent's hand as he grumbles under his breath and trudges back to his initial position, at Shadow's six o'clock, blocking the only exit from the miniature stadium.

"Go on then," he hisses. "Knock my socks off."

Shadow walks forward slowly, never breaking eye contact with Sonic, and he—Sonic nearly looks scared. It makes Shadow fidget and squirm, just slightly. But he pushes on, retains his steely expression, and doesn't stop until he's staring down at the hero with a fire rumbling in his eyes.

"Shads," the speedster manages out, drowsy from the drugs yet wildly aware of what's happening. His eyes are wide and cautious and he struggles to make his mouth move. "Shadow, wait—"

Shadow raises his arm up and golden energy snaps into his palm, crackling and dangerous. He doesn't miss the way Sonic winces.

"—Don't—"

"Chaos Control!"

Everything seems to run in slow motion as Shadow grabs his arm, still tethered down to the chair, and then a bubble of white light lapses over them.

Sonic blinks his eyes open and suddenly they aren't in the dank, decrepit Death Egg anymore. They're in the middle of a grassy clearing, vacant and draped over in a veil of an evening sunset that paints the air in a golden hue. He exhales sharply and lets out a breathy thing that barely passes as a laugh.

"You… What-?"

Shadow sighs and starts undoing the bonds around Sonic's limbs. A tired, almost delirious smile tugs at the corners of his lips. "I wasn't lying back there, you know. I'd never betray you."

As soon as he's free, Sonic pulls himself to his feet, nearly loses his balance, then collapses into Shadow's arms. "Asshole."

"I'm sorry," the agent murmurs, rubbing his partner's back soothingly. "I didn't mean to—it was for a G.U.N. mission. Undercover. I had no idea they were keeping you hostage. And as soon as I saw you I realized I couldn't do it anymore."

"Well," Sonic breathes into his neck, "thank you for saving me. I'm okay now."

Shadow nearly grins. "The commander's going to kill me for blowing my cover."

"It was worth it though, right?"

"Of course."

And Shadow thinks, as he holds Sonic in his arms and feels calm again for the first time in a long time, that maybe they'll both be okay.


hjhsdgfd and that's all, shadow needs a hug and his bf is happy to oblige!

happy birthday arctic, i love u lots!