Author: Oneshadedarker PM
For Shadow Christmas is a time of broken memories and painful reminders. Until a chance encounter with a rose colored hedgehog brings more than he bargained for [Shadamy]Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst/Romance - Shadow & Amy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 15,851 - Reviews: 33 - Favs: 43 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 01-08-06 - Published: 12-17-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2707465
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hello there everyone. My name is Nxy, formerly known as Keep Me In The Shadows. Yes, I know, quite a change in length huh? This is a story I've had in mind for a while now, since July actually. And now it has been given voice...muhahahahaha! Anyway, since there is nothing left to say I'll leave you to it...enjoy.
Dedicated to my grandmother, who taught me the beauty of friendship, kindness and patience and that best friends can be family too. I wish you were here…you'd love the snow.
Te quiero Abuela.
The streetlamp briefly flickered and for a second the darkness encompassed everything. With an agitated breath the falcon stopped, unsure why the sudden darkness alarmed him. Wary eyes gazed around, catching sight of abandoned cars, neon signs and dark alleyways. A sigh escaped, one of self-directed anger at his enigmatic action before he turned forward…to stare at prevalent, unnerving blood red orbs. On instinct he froze, eyes trapped in delirium. Inexplicable fear trapped him within the intense crimson gaze, eyes of a haunted, forbidden hue. Thoughts failed where emotions took hold and to gaze unwittingly into eyes that held no such reservations left him cold, not simply because of the weather.
A bright spark brought the streetlight back to life, seeming to resume frozen existence. The falcon flinched reluctantly, eyes accustomed to the darkness unable to accept the sudden alteration. Blinking a few times to regain a clear view of reality he turned forward once more, expecting demonic eyes to gaze back, outlines, contours and features to accompany them. But there was nothing, no trace of another being, no scent or disheveled scenery, only the prickle of winters cold that left his beak in small, amorphous breaths.
The falcon shuddered in anxiety, a palpable feeling of fear. With hurried steps he wandered the remainder of the street, a deep rooted sensation of being watched causing his heart to thunder in his ears. Tonight the shadows took form, the devils prayed and the angels vanquished. Wars begin and end, stars erupt and others are reborn. The moon holds power, the sun attains sleep and the world is in balance.
And far above the empty street, perched upon a marble statue protruding from an overlooking edifice, crimson eyes blink out of existence, as easily as the stars implode above.
His gaze turned swiftly, regarding some of the neighboring stars and planets, beautiful in their opulence and radiance, the mysterious veil which enshrouded them. He'd been fortunate enough to gaze at a few up close, through a telescope situated near the research laboratories but it hadn't truly captured his imagination. Empty and hollow, they seemed like mere shells. His gaze returned toward the planet below, small and inconsequential in the intricacy of the cosmos like a piece of coral in a paperweight. But sometimes it is the truly menial that holds the greatest importance. And coral, for all its abrasiveness, holds unfathomable beauty.
"You're thinking again. I hope they're pleasant thoughts" inquired a soft voice, audible mirth hidden beneath the tone.
"Unessential yes. Pleasant is still up for deliberation."
A pleasing sound, somewhere between a giggle and a chuckle escaped her lips, a laugh he always found charming. A minute smile played on his lips, one only she could evoke.
A few seconds later the sight of blue silk entered his vision, her reflection against clear glass accompanying his own mirror image. Her smile was warm, seeming to eradicate the prevalent chill inhabiting the facilities rooms. It always unnerved him, how easily her actions, simple as they sometimes were, evoked feelings. Sometimes unwanted, mostly unexplainable it was an unalterable part of their relationship. With caring came commitment and with commitment, emotions. One was impossible without the other. But at a time in which all he knew were the walls of Ark and the friendship of a small human female, an era in which love and emotions were not a danger to sanity and empathy, it was the least he could give. It was what he was willing to give.
"Grandfather spoke with me today…he told me the venture is in its final stages. He's going to meet with Earths government next week and unveil the final prototype of Project Shadow." The last of the sentence was spoken tentatively, as if she were afraid of his reaction. Empathetic in every manner she was afraid of demeaning him. To simply be labeled Project Shadow an invariable reminder of his birth, a debasing of his character…it was a simple name that meant nothing, that explained nothing and categorized him as nothing.
His eyes traversed the short distance separating them, meeting with apologetic azure. He felt comfort in her worry and annoyance at her hesitation.
"You should stop caring so much about others emotions...especially when its unnecessary." He whispered, turning his gaze away but finding a gentle smile in the windows reflection.
"I'm sorry. I should have known it wouldn't bother you."
"Don't apologize. It's in your nature…I think it is…endearing." He whispered timidly, face flushed at his own admission.
An affectionate hand was placed on his shoulder, a simple laugh and his own embarrassment lay forgotten. Yes, it unnerved him, the hold she had over him but…it meant in his own way…he was mortal. And he wanted to be…for her.
Silence impregnated the air, shattering the moment and leaving a vagueness of something imminence, of something left unsaid. His eyes turned toward hers, willing her to acknowledge him. But her orbs were lost among the vibrant, endless masses of Earth, adoration, respect…maybe a little fear in her azure eyes. He didn't take her disregard seriously, understanding the enchantment the world provided. His own gaze wandered, knowing in some deep realm of thought her emotions met his, her thoughts entwined his own and words were superfluous.
It took him several seconds to acknowledge her words, lost in a contemplative reverie. The words spoken aren't of much significance, uttered in a fragment that did not stand out. But the anxious, agitated way in which she speaks them brings him back, evokes in him the need to understand.
Her hand comes to rest against the cool glass, delicate finger leaving a timeless imprint on its surface. Her eyes hold childish incredulity, a type of breathless enthrallment and wonder, concern and apprehension. He follows the movement, knowing exactly where she is pointing, where her fascination lies. He too regards the planet but does not allow his thoughts to wander like before.
"Are you sure…is it wise…?"
"I'm fine my friend. I've grown stronger, strong enough to venture to the world below. Don't baby me so much…" she chided, a smile eradicating the harshness of the words. He huffed in vexation, though the action was also hollow, devoid of animosity.
"Imagine it…well finally see the Earth. Won't it be beautiful?" she spoke, her words sounding breathless. He could hear the barely contained excitement, understood the restlessness of her spirit. Trapped within confining walls for nearly all her existence, the prospect of freedom would appeal to anyone. And yet it made him uneasy. He did not know or understand the ways, customs…the world of the creatures below. Ignorance was not something he liked to associate with himself, but outside of the small world created by the professor, he was in fact a novice. For her sake, it was a trait he had to relinquish.
"You seem perturbed. Isn't this what we've always wanted?" she asked and he couldn't overlook the underlying apprehension. He turned fully, focusing his attention solely on her. She reciprocated the action, an act of respect and forbearing.
"Ark is all we have ever known…it is our world. We have strived to attain this moment but I can't help but feel…this ache…" His words stopped, as if the pain were in fact corporeal. It ran deeper than the physical, seemed to reap his mentality. It was the disquieting feeling of foreboding, a sense of imminence he found unnerving. His fingers clenched of their own volition, trying to disrobe the disquieting emotion so foreign to him.
"Grandfather told me they are celebrating…a time of rebirth. There is merriment, benevolence, amnesty…there is hope. I want to see it, see happiness, pleasure, color, texture…sound that doesn't revolve around the hum of a machine or lusterless walls or droning voices…I want life, to see it and to partake of it." She ended on a sharp breath, the tirade seeming to come from a concealed depth. Her face turned away, ashamed for her outburst and how selfish and uncouth it made her sound.
"Don't say it…you were speaking from your heart. I'll never condemn you for that." He soothed, finding the situation awkward. He wasn't one to offer consolations or tender words of endearment. The very same idea seemed to brighten those azure eyes and within a heartbeat both were chuckling, dispersing the uncomfortable silence.
"…Thank you" she murmured once their laughter calmed, her orbs vivid with emotion. Unused to words of gratitude he turned away, cheeks slightly flushed and suddenly finding immense interest in the planet below. Her smile widened and she took her place by his side, finding her next words were more for herself than for him.
"There is snow…It's been so long since the last time I saw it."
"Snow?" he asked, finding a vacant space in his mind. No definition, no mental image associated with the word, only misplacement. He recited the word over and over, breaking it down into syllables, trying to find similar connotations and coming short. It was obviously a word he'd never learned or never had to utilize.
"Snow is precipitation in the form of crystalline water ice, consisting of a multitude of snowflakes. Since it is composed of small rough particles it is granular material. It has an open and therefore soft structure, unless packed by external pressure" She explained in a maternal voice, a tone she often used when instructing. He doubted she even realized she used such a tone but felt no need to point it out.
"Crystallized precipitation? It sounds intriguing…this snow excites you?"
Her smile was enough of a response. "I didn't always live on Ark..." she began and he fell into respective silence beside her. In truth, he was slightly surprised by her words. He'd always imagined her within the metallic walls of Ark, a frail child with vivacious blue eyes peering into the coverlet of space, an inquisitive mind and sweet tongue exploring and probing, bringing smiles to all who met her. It was hard for him to imagine a time before Ark, maybe because in his realm of reality he knew of no other place but Ark.
His ears bristled, awaiting her next words. He found himself oddly interested in her past, unsure if she had ever truly spoken to him of it. It was acceptance into a part of herself he'd never ventured or tried to venture. It was their form of intimacy, their expression of friendship.
"When I was a child my mother and I lived with my aunt and her son, a child named Ivo. I don't remember much about them, or even my own mother. I was nearly an infant, no more than four or five. But I recall a time in which the cold filled every crevice of our lives. I remember the happiness that cold brought because I saw mother more and more. I think…maybe she worked most of the time, leaving me in the care of my aunt." She whispered, her words taking a gentle edge as if it were an opaque piece of glass that could shatter at any moment. He closed his eyes, imagining a little nymph with the charismatic smile.
"It was during that time that mother and I would decorate the windows, doors, hallways with anything we could find. Sometimes it was with nothing, merely string or paper…and sometimes it was with glitter, beads, glass…things we could construct together while my aunt baked in the kitchen and Ivo scrounged around the house for more supplies. But what I remember the most was the snow, how untainted and untouched it appeared. The first snowfall of the season was my favorite. We would all go outside and play, even the adults would play like children. There were snowball fights and snow angels…running, laughing…it was pure."
"It sounds so simple." He murmured absentmindedly, her words creating vivid images that held nothing of prominence or affluence but seemed beautiful regardless. His mind once again envisioned that piece or coral, lost within the expanse of the paperweight, menial but potent. Just like a memory. His gaze turned toward her awaiting eyes, finding those very thoughts expressed in lithe sweeps of azure. Her smile widened.
"And that is why it was beautiful…because it was simple."
'It's been so long since I've dreamed of her…'
His eyes narrowed in distaste. It was atrocious to call this a memory, heresy to call it a dream. But there was no way to define such images without internal conflict. Classifying it as a memory meant it once happened…it was unalterable, like a scar. Classifying it as a dream meant it was an illusion, dispelled by the coming of light. In the end, he preferred the small comfort of calling it a dream, egotistic and idiotic as it was. At least that way he could pretend, if only for a second that it never happened.
He closed his eyes once more hoping to regain his wits, to dispel the inconsequential thoughts roaming through his mind. When he opens them again they are clear ruby glass, attentive and observant.
He tried to stand, finding with mild annoyance that his body was numb with lethargy and cold. He flexed his fingers on instinct, finding the thin cloth of his gloves had saved his fingers from complete frostbite and the layers of his shoes had protected his feet. The rest of him however was anesthetized.
With slow progress he managed to stand, the movement painful as blood circulated freely, awakening hibernating muscles with a sharp, bothersome prickling. He stood there for a few moments, pawing at the ground with his foot to bring needed heat and mobility to his legs. Once he was certain he could move without flailing like an imbecile he made his way toward the railing surrounding the roofs perimeter.
Crimson eyes scanned the area below, taking stock of any irregularity. It was a primal instinct, one of self-preservation that spurred the habit. He didn't like to be caught unaware, especially if it was because of his own negligence. Carelessness meant death and he would rather pride himself in shrewdness than in idiocy.
The howl of a stray dog captured his attention, a shout of caution to others of its pack. He listened for a few moments, taking note of the crescendo in pitch before it swiftly silenced, leaving a haunting beauty afterward. The strays were the ones who seemed to understand the mechanics, hazards and safeguards of the city. Listening to their wisdoms meant survival when the unforeseen came and he'd learned a long time ago about analyzing and interpreting the signs.
His gaze rolled over the streets, catching sight of the thinning crowd, made scarce by the shifting weather and the moons recent appearance. The last of the straggling children make their way home, businesses close, lights dim before they expire completely, leaving only the fabricated light of the street lamps. In the distance he can hear bells from the local church, bells churning out a predetermined rhythm that sounded very much like a hymn. Nine chimes and he knew what time it was, his position in the misplaced timeline.
He begins to turn, finding nothing of concern when his eyes catch hold of an irregularity…irregular because it is familiar. A pelt of the most vibrant rose color caught hold of the golden light of a streetlamp, shattering the hedonistic darkness trying to envelop her. From his position he could see the way her shadow played against the wall looming over her, casting oblong images that were enhanced by a random car headlight. A coat of scarlet lined with white fur at the collar, knee high snow boots accompanying a short cut burgundy dress, emerald scarf that accentuated striking jade eyes. It was impossible not to remember her regardless of how much time had passed since their last encounter.
Her form disappeared behind a passing truck before he saw her again, waiting for a changing light to cross the street. He jumped onto the buildings edge, following her form with both his eyes and his body. He wasn't sure why he hadn't already turned around, purging her from his mind like he had the rest of the city but he found himself interested in her destination. If only for a little while he would humor his curiosity.
He trekked rooftop after rooftop, following her through alleyways and intersections until she came to rest before a display window of a dilapidated building. The stop was sudden and his first instinct was to crouch, hands splayed over hard concrete in an attempt to support his body weight.
'Does she sense something?'
His ears bristled, trying to pick up any irregular sound while his eyes surveyed the area below. He could find nothing in the air currents, neither scent or sound and all that met his eyes was darkness. If there were any enemies below they were low wind and his position didn't afford him any advantage.
Whether or not she was in trouble was none of his concern. He'd parted ways with that component of his life and all involved in it. Life in seclusion had afforded him a rare chance at peace of mind. To shatter that now would be imprudent. It was a logical conclusion, one unbiased by emotion.
Unfortunately, there was emotion…in a sense. He owed her, for memories unlocked, promises kept. It was a debt that ran deeper than a labeled sentiment. It was saving him…from himself.
With a growl at his own stupidity he jumped, ignoring the piercing wind made even more poignant by his sudden plunge. With a reflexive twist of his body he righted himself, using an acute sense of balance and flexibility to land on his feet. It was a skill he was sure had been ingrained to him at some point, either for preservation or protection.
With a single movement he rose from his crouched position, eyes glancing toward the small body before him. There was a split second in which his eyes met hers within the display window before she abruptly turned, the sound of shattering crystal the only palpable resonance.
Her face had lost none of its youth, age seeming to make her appear more innocent than the usual cynicism that came with the passage of time. Her eyes held wisdom, an ever-present virtue he'd long overlooked until their final encounter in that isolated laboratory so long ago. And now those large jade eyes were wide with surprise, face etched with fear.
"…Sh…Shadow" she gasped, hand gripping the thick fabric of her scarf, directly over the erratic heartbeat that stole her breath.
It had been a long time since someone had called him that, bestowed him with an identity, a purpose spanning the length of a single gasp. He looked down, catching sight of glittering shards like the stars swell in ire. An ornament, shaped like an angel lies broken between them, fallen from the small bag he'd never noticed encircled in her arms.
Shadows were never meant to touch beauty...to touch another's life. Devastation was all that would ever result from such a meeting, destruction of the beautiful and the untainted, of the lines that separated the pure from the flawed.
His orbs briefly glanced behind her, toward the display window. Behind the glass sat an opulently carved shrine, a memorial marking a passage in history, the beginning of faith and promise, where all fables began with elaborate words that poured from devoted hearts in both speech and text.
The reason she stopped. Not because of foreshadowed danger or intuitive self-protection in the face of adversity. Not because of his imagined specters or treacherous enemies. Simply his stupidity, born of a jaded mind and practiced caution.
Breaking away from the intricacies of the shrine he turned, dispelling the awkward silence that impregnated the air between them. It seemed better, for his own piece of mind as well as hers that he simply vanish, severing whatever connection he may have made. It was his impulsive nature that drove him to this…he should have known better.
Shadows aren't meant to wander the world of the living.
He began to walk away, already set on abolishing this encounter from his mind when he heard the sound of a sharp breath and the searing warmth of a searching hand on his shoulder.
Instinctively he flinched, unused to contact in any tangible form. With a swift, calculated movement he shrugged his shoulders, casting off her incisive paw filled with warmth, a ripple in the reality he has set for himself. He wouldn't turn back…there was nothing for him in those jade eyes or in the promises preached by the sumptuous shrine of marble. There was only the sense that he had crossed a boundary he'd promised never to tread.
Abrasive wind kissed his flesh, cooling the searing touch from her paw. The familiar cold swathed him, a barrier he hoped would deter her. The familiar sense of numbness shifted his world into balance. And once again he felt alone, the shadow that swayed in the muted mantra of the leaves or listened to the fractured moonlight, sensual haunting…burning. He was the predator…without a name or rationale. He simply existed, nothing more, nothing less.
It didn't take him long to register the prowling footsteps, an imposing and threatening serenade that struck his awakened senses. His muscles tightened in vigilance, his fangs bearing themselves in ferocity. It was the instinctual impulse, the thrive that allowed him to endure. And in that second, regardless of age or gender, all that mattered was the instinct of survival.
His fists clenched before he pivoted on the heel of his foot, a feral snarl escaping as he caught the blunt end of a weapon, stopping it in mid attack. His eyes traveled the short distance between himself and his adversary…only to find shadowed jade. His growl lost some of its intensity, eventually dying away completely to be replaced by astonishment.
With a shake of his head he grasped the head of the hammer, knowing it would be ineffective and hazardous to try and brush off the attack. Instead he begins to pull, noticing with minute satisfaction the surprise in those emerald eyes before the weapon is wretched from her grasp. With a gasp of anger she tried to reach for it but he managed to sidestep her, finding lack of patience and understanding do not bode well on the mind.
"Give me back my hammer." She cried, striding forward to try and reclaim it from him a second time. But her lack of fleetness gives her a pressing disadvantage and even before she can end the sentence he has already moved away, leaving her to seethe over her own inability.
"You're in no position to negotiate." He growled, unable to keep his previous animosity veiled. He isn't given much time to elaborate before she came toward him, hands reaching toward the weapon in his grasp. Instead of moving away as was his original plan he simply raised the hammer above his head, taunting her with its closeness. It is a childish move, one that affords him no advantages but when she comes to stand before him, raised on the tips of her boots in an attempt to reach her beloved weapon it almost makes the action seem…intimate, like friends.
'You're thinking again. I hope they're pleasant thoughts'
An unguarded moment shattered his concentration and without much effort she managed to reclaim her weapon, minute surprise at his negligence. There was a silent pause between them and she could see the darkness that jaded his crimson eyes, like the clouds eclipsed the sun. It made him appear distant, bitter and her first instinct was to move away. She knew she had treaded on something better left obscured.
"Why did you attack me?"
She paused in her observations, slightly surprised at the controlled demeanor in which he spoke. His composure was resolute, unnerving in its intensity. For a second she simply stared at him in bewilderment, trying to differentiate between the shadow that veiled its truths and the hedgehog that subsists in lies.
The heat of crimson orbs brings her back from her reverie and, with a small blush at her rude and rather blunt analysis of him; she decides to answer his question.
"Don't blame me. I tried to be nice. You were the one who acted like a jerk." She responded, her voice teetering between annoyance and anger, though in retrospect it always seemed one fueled the other. She shook her head, a sigh escaping her lips and observed with mild interest the way in which it took form, vapor coiling through the air before evaporating, only to be joined seconds later by an exhaled breath. "It seems like the only way I can ever get anyone's attention is to beat them half to death. I'm not sure why I thought you would be any different."
He huffed, attracting curious emerald orbs which crimson eyes simply refused to meet. A dramatic gale nicked his skin, the discomfort seeming to slightly overshadow all other present emotions. It was a distraction he was thankful for, a reason to move that was valid. From the corner of his eye he could see her tremble, the dress she wore leaving her legs exposed to the bitter wind. He remained rooted, half expecting her to say exactly why she wanted his attention, the other half expecting her to simply walk away. But the Rotating on the heel of his shoe he walked away, the mythical sound of another strays howl reminding him of the city's dangers.
"Children shouldn't wander after dark" he whispered, the words escaping his mouth in elegant brushstrokes avariciously swallowed by the night. For a second, he almost believed his words had been lost, entrapped by rouge shafts of moonlight and scornful gales. But when the sound of an angry gasp fills the space between them he knows his words have been swept into the ears of those for whom they were intended.
"Why you little…" she seethes, gripping her hammer vehemently. Had he actually called her a child? The very thought made her blood boil. Bad enough he ignored her after nearly sending her into cardiac arrest, now he had the nerve to patronize her.
Picking up the small motley bag she'd left near the display window she followed in the dark hedgehogs footsteps, determined to show the sanctimonious creature who was the child. And damn all those who tried to stand in her way.
It didn't take him long to distinguish the atypical echo of a second pair of footsteps directly behind him. A soft growl rose in his throat, the sound overshadowed by a passing aircraft that briefly shielded the moon, throwing equilibrium into chaos. For a second time that night he wondered why he had not yet left. It would be simple to lose her, his speed and agility far outweighing hers. The rooftops were perfect shelters…there was no reason to remain. So why was he so reluctant to leave?
The hymn of the night called him, lulling him back into nonexistence. For a moment he lost touch, becoming the very shadows that gave him his name. Memories flooded back, of moments spent behind the veil of darkness, perched on thick branches of proud, graceful trees, within the shadowed darkness of the city's alleys, in junkyards, rooftops, abandoned warehouses, decrepit windowsills… all the while observing the creatures that walked beneath the speckled skies kissed by both radiance and obscurity. And then the panic would come, the sudden, unexplainable urge to scream at these creatures, to prove his existence.
'If I scream, will they hear me? Will they see me?'
And the desperation would escalate with each passing second, each moment forgotten in the mist of laughter and movement. Each instant was replaced by another, more miniscule space of time before it was replaced again, each breath he acquired, each thought, each sound, each heartbeat irrelevant. One more second has gone by and no one has realized the shadows are stirring.
'Look at me…'
Children raced away from their mothers, playing games under the clairvoyant sun. One child holds a prized possession, blatantly flaunting it at the other children who follow suit, intent on attaining what was deliberately placed before them.
Lovers walk beneath the cherry blossoms, hands entwined as the love they harbor is blessed by endless showers of rose colored leaves. Laughter is exchanged, beauty is admired and kisses are stolen, all locked within the memory of a single petal.
Tears are shed, filling the hollows made by footprints of predecessors. A casket is carried by a few husky creatures, their faces somber and respectful as they lead the long procession of mourners toward the final resting place. Wreaths and flowers draped like a cloak over burnished wood mark a concluding farewell.
'LOOK AT ME!'
But no one ever did. The shadow would recede, finding…understanding its place and the mantra his kind lived by.
'Look but never touch'
It was those insensible, irrational moments that he feared the most. Lapses in which he yearned to be acknowledged, to touch the crystal paperweight without fear it would shatter. It was foolishness that drove him to crave the aura of others, to want to be inscribed in their memories. To be a part of the world even if it led to his own downfall. And it was in that moment, observed by the prowling crows and corporeal moon that he realized exactly why he was still here, allowing himself to be seen, observed, acknowledged.
He'd opened the floodgates of his own yearning, allowed himself to pierce the realm of the living, bask in the light. He'd touch the life of another but not in the form of a shadow, the compliant, unwilling observer, a silent predator. No, he'd touched her life completely. He'd broken the shadows mantra.
He'd made a connection to Amy Rose…
…and now the barriers were broken.
Crimson colored orbs ceased their scrutiny, casting a sidelong glance at the female hedgehog before him. Sometime during their excursion Amy had ceased to lag behind Shadow, instead coming to stand alongside him and often wandering ahead, exploring the mysteries pooling the creases of the concrete sidewalks and sturdy houses. Shadow made sure to watch over her lest her innocent investigation wind up getting them killed. The cosmos only knew how this naïve creature had yet to be harmed but reminiscing on her acquaintances, namely the blue faker and his band of associates he had some inkling as to why. Besides, he knew that whether the others realized it or not Amy had the prowess and strength necessary for endurance. Her previous attack had shown him that much.
Rhythmic footsteps pursued them down the long stretch of concrete before it faltered, the tempo broken. The peculiarity pierced Shadow's contemplations and immediately carmine colored orbs were transfixed on Amy, wondering what had caused the rose colored hedgehog to stop.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Amy breathed, the underlying admiration in her tone giving her question a whimsical air. She couldn't help but rush toward one of the trees lining the path, observing the fathomless lights wrapped like thick, celestial stars around the entire expanse of the tree. Like crystal fireflies or shimmering pearls they were beautiful, wrapped around long, elegant branches, sturdy trunks and gnarling roots. Her emerald eyes were alive with their reflective color and the smile on her lips told of her delight.
The sound of shoes scraping concrete, their sudden halt and the sensation of warmth alerted her of Shadow's presence. She waited for a few moments, expecting verbal appreciation or if nothing else muted approval. But when her eyes caught hold of his there was no pleasure or admiration, only dark hostility and revulsion. Her smile faltered.
He turned around, movement made forceful, inelegant by anger. Amy felt despair tear at her mind. What had she done? Her mind searched in vain for some sort of indication, finding nothing worthy enough of upsetting Shadow. Her gaze turned toward the ornamented tree, wondering briefly if this had been the cause of his fury. She had no time to speculate on that assumption. Already the ebony hedgehog was merely a fragment pieced together into the dark ambience, like the shard of a mural. She rushed after him, briefly acknowledging the decorative fence that stood as a border between the urban housing and the park.
Emerald orbs searched blindly through the darkness, catching hold of the violent streak of crimson staining his quills, arms and legs. She slowed, her panting gasps emerging in small, fluid clouds that glittered under the arbitrary streaks of moonlight. She took the time to recover, observing the onyx hedgehog. Indecision clutched her. Should she go near him? She'd seen his anger before, his raw power. He could easily allow that emotion to obscure his judgment, to hurt her in his frustration. Yet inexplicably she couldn't help but feel that he wouldn't. Their encounters, brief as they were had afforded her rare glimpses of his mercy, his restraint and discipline. No, he wouldn't hurt her. Taking a deep breath she strode forward until she was before him, underneath the haunting branches of a willow.
Moments passed in uncomfortable silence and Amy couldn't find the words she wanted to utter, or him to hear. Her gaze stole a brief glance at the ground, finding the fragile remains of a leaf, withered and dead. Placing her bag against the tree trunk she bent down, her fingertips brushing the coarse surface briefly before she picked it up, cradling it in her palm when a piece broke off, falling to the floor only to shatter like glass. She briefly gazed at the discolored leaf, random thoughts given unconscious voice.
"A leaf holds fathomless memory, witness to existence and destruction. They remember declarations of love, a baby's first steps, the first rainfall of spring, the glittering sunset…and they also remember the awful, the destruction of its kindred, the pollution of the lake, the killing of the animals. They are the willow's memories, grasped tightly in an effort to remember where others forget, regardless of how those memories might pain them. And then, slowly, they begin to fall, shed from the tree that has housed them. They fade out of existence, the last survivors of ancient tales and infamous legends…only to be reborn once again, simple husks that will restock themselves with new memories. The trees are able to shed the good and the bad and start over. Don't you wish we could do that Shadow? To start over so that we can move on when the pain is just too much?"
No response came, no movement to show acknowledgement or even disdain. Her emerald eyes turned upward, gazing at the stoic face curtained by oblong shadows, eyes expressionless as they gazed at the leaf held in her palms. A question surged forward, unable to be quelled by better judgment.
A cruel, bitter smile curved the thin line of his mouth, giving him an air of malice that made her quills bristle. But when emerald met crimson all she saw was the shattering fissures of his façade, the mask he wore so expertly. His eyes clouded with memory, regret, anger…pain. He was in pain, trapped in a malicious delusion.
"This was the day…the day she died." He whispered as if speaking to some invisible specter, a vengeful spirit seeking retribution. Amy remained silent, out of respect, maybe even fear. She'd treaded dangerous territory, opened the floodgates of emotions and memories sealed away for more than half a century. She was his confidant, the silent cleric who listened, unbiased to heartfelt confession and sin. His savior and executioner.
Silently she willed him to go on but she doubted she needed to. Now was his punishment, to relive tragedy.
"The planets government wanted to see the fruit of the professor's labor, the promise made flesh of the first immortal creature endowed with the power of chaos. It would be his first descent from the colony in years…he wanted Maria and I to go with him. I remember how happy she was…how she reminisced about winter, snow…the thing called Christmas and all it ever meant to her. And then they came…the very day we were to depart for the planet and killed her..."
'The first snowfall of the season was my favorite. We would all go outside and play, even the adults would play like children. There were snowball fights and snow angels…running, laughing…it was pure'
"…the day she died…the day of rebirth…it all seems like a twisted irony doesn't it?" Shadow asked, haunted crimson trapping emerald. Amy felt her insides coil.
'The reason he despises the ornamental trees…the lights…Christmas…all because of her. Today was the day she left him alone to bear her cross.'
Years of contempt, of loathing, of silent suffering had twisted him into this hollow creature that lived of the perverse pleasure of inner torment. He was breaking at the seams…she couldn't let him fall.
"Do you think she'd want this Shadow? For you to suffer this way. Is that why she sacrificed herself?"
Crimson eyes narrowed, pain replaced by rage. Amy knew she was breaking all the rules, judging when she was only meant to listen. But if he wanted absolution from sin he needed forgiveness…not from Amy but from himself.
"How dare you speak of things you don't understand!" he seethed, hand forcefully wrapping around Amy's wrist in an attempt at intimidation, a forceful expression of his feelings…maybe even a fearful warning. He wanted her to stop…she knew she had to keep going.
"No…how dare you desecrate her memory! You continue to reminisce about the past, to see the blood on your hands and condemn yourself…condemn her. Because of it you don't think you're worth it do you? Worth knowing, worth accepting…worth loving. You hide in the darkness so you won't hurt others but all you're doing is hurting yourself. Shadow…you're defiling her memory."
His hand fell away, the bruising hold dispelled. Amy nursed the tender flesh though her eyes never parted from his. A shuddering breath ripped through him, carmine orbs alive with emotion. He was crumbling, the memories that served as a barrier between him and all others…those walls were coming down, stone that bore his blood disintegrated beneath the emerging shafts of light.
"Shadow…please, don't tie her down to earthly defilement. Blood, misery, tears…regrets stain your memories until all that's left are withering pieces of nightmares. They tear at the very fiber of your sanity. Please Shadow…do it for her. Live, laugh, cry, mourn where she could not and then move on. Every time you corrupt her memory she dies a little bit more. You're sentencing her, tying her spirit like a dove in a cage. Let her move on...if you love her, set her free."
Shadow tried to speak, to find the words that would dispute her accusations, contradict her observations but nothing came. Dreams, memories…he barely remembered her face without remembering blood, rarely considered a time in which her smile was pure, not marred by pain. Infancy lay forgotten; their laughter was replaced by screams. There was nothing.
He had forgotten her.
He leaned back against the thick bark of the tree, trying to regain balance. His eyes rose to meet hers in understanding, in regret. How had he allowed this to happen, to forget the one thing that allowed him to continue to live? Had he truly dishonored her, destroyed all the lessons she'd taught him? He didn't know…he needed time…he needed to remember.
A small jolt of cold caught her unaware and slightly jumped, momentarily breaking her connection with the ebony hedgehog. Emerald eyes turned upward, catching sight of soft crystals falling like glass from the heavens. On instinct she outstretched her palm, catching an errant snowflake and watching as perfection died, seeping into the material of her gloves.
Impulsively she grasped his hand, ignoring the surprised look he cast her and held his palm in her own, watching as he gazed at the snow that softly fell, peppering his quills, fitting into the creases of his paw before melting, only to have another take its place.
"Through you do her memories live…through you do her desires, happiness exist. Don't allow your anger to deform the beauty of your friendship. Let go of it and be reborn…just like the willow" Amy ended, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
"You make it sound so simple" he whispered, his eyes never parting from the fragile crystal now lining both their palms.
"And that is why it was beautiful…because it was simple."
Crimson eyes rose in surprise, catching sight of emerald. Amy squeezed the hand tenderly before breaking away. She'd done all she could…the rest was his to decide. But Shadow was a survivor, the ultimate lifeform. All he needed was someone to remind him that he was mortal…and that it was okay to be.
Reaching for the emerald scarf around her collar she unsettled it from her shoulders, reaching out to enclose it around his neck. She picked up her bag, and before she could think better of it, leaned up to kiss his cheek, internally smiling at the flush that stained his cheeks.
"Merry Christmas Shadow" she whispered, making her way back down the cobbled path. An errant wind rippled the material of her clothing, and she could have sworn she'd heard his whisper, one of uncertainty, maybe even acceptance. A smile danced across her lips, undaunted by the bitter cold.
'Merry Christmas Amy'