Disclaimer- I don't own Sonic and co.

Woo boy, it's been a while, huh? I don't have any excuses really. Like, I've had the outline done for this chapter a long time ago, but my brain just shut down whenever I tried to write. Maybe it was because of the characters and their interactions…idk. But I finally got it done! Enjoy!

Beta'd by 18204!

Chapter 13- Illusory

The ride home from Seaside Hill was quiet – not like Red had expected anything different.

The sounds of a rumbling engine and the whipping of winds were the only things that filled the silence in the jeep. Even Charmy had known to properly read the atmosphere, staying quiet as he shared a seat with Espio up front.

There was a shift beside Red, and a restrained whimper accompanied the movement. He glanced over and frowned at the discomfort that twisted TT's features. "Your chest is giving you trouble?" Red asked lowly, knowing the answer to the question already. His own broken nose was giving him trouble with every risky breath he took with it, so whatever laid underneath TT's nasty bruises had to be painful by this point.

TT subtly nodded, taking too deep of a breath that caused him to suck his teeth in pain. "Y-Yeah…"

After eyeing the kit's bruises for another moment, Red threw his voice to the front of the vehicle. "How much longer do we have until we get there?" While they wouldn't be healed until Penumbra and Shadow returned, resting without harsh curves and bumps in the road would be a welcome change.

Vector was the one to answer him. "Should be at Vanilla's in 'bout five minutes!" He briefly peered over his shoulder, scanning the ones in the back with a sympathetic eye. "Then all of you can rest up until the boys come back with that crazy emerald."

There was no 'if' or any doubt in that statement. Shadow and the others would bring that gem back. If only Rosy shared that confidence.

Considering who all went to retrieve the emerald, Red would've thought that Rosy would be more positive about the situation. That wasn't the case. Maybe it was the fact that Eggman was active again, or that Bat was back, or that being reminded of what she had lost was too big of a hit. He wasn't sure.

Red nodded at Vector's words before addressing TT. "Can you hold out until then?"

"I can…" He shifted more in his seat, getting as comfortable as he could. Red noticed how TT was refraining from touching Rosy, who was oblivious to their conversation as she stared out the window. He was about to ask why, but TT shook his head. "I d-don't want her to worry even more…"

Red didn't know the difference between knowing now and knowing in five minutes, but he kept quiet anyway.

They lapsed into silence once more until Vanilla's house came into view.

The grassy yard was empty when Vector parked the jeep, unlocking the doors. While the Chaotix got out and stretched, Red watched as TT struggled to take off his seatbelt.

"I got it." He undid the buckle for the kid, receiving an appreciative smile in return. "Do you think you'll be able to make it inside, or do you need some help?"

TT opened his mouth, but he seemed to rethink his answer when a wrong move caused his body to stiffen. He meekly nodded with a whispered, "Please…"

Red got out of the jeep and turned around, thinking about the other's bad luck. This hadn't been the first time TT's ribs had taken a beating. First back in their world, and then now…hopefully they wouldn't have to worry about these kinds of injuries anytime soon.

The echidna held his arms out, positioning them under the kit as carefully as he could. TT hissed under his breath once he secured him in his hold; Red was about to reassure him that a bed was only a few steps away, but a hushed gasp made him glance up.

Rosy, out of the jeep, just noticed the condition of her kid brother and the assistance he was getting. She bit her lip in worry, looking between TT and Red. "How bad does it hurt now, Tails?"

TT took too deep of a breath to answer, and nothing but a low whimper escaped him.

Red made sure that Rosy was reading his lips when he spoke, adjusting the fox in his grip. "It's safe to say that he needs a place to lie down."

Rosy nodded but didn't respond. The immense concern etched in her features said what words didn't. Red inwardly sighed as he managed to shut the door with his body, hoping that Shadow's group succeeded in their mission so they could go back to adjusting to their new lives.

Vector was knocking at the front door at this point; Espio sent TT a sympathetic look before trying to console him. "It might take a while, but your injuries will be taken care of when the others come back." Espio then locked gazes with Rosy, his tone soft yet confident. "And hopefully yours too."

Doubt was still written all over her face even as she nodded.

Red's stare lingered on the pinkette until the door flew open. "Hey, welcome back!" Amy greeted with a cautious smile that marginally faded at the conditions of Red, TT, and Rosy. She immediately ran out and gingerly wrapped her double in a hug. Rosy was fighting back tears as she hugged her back.

When Amy leaned away, she squeezed Rosy's shoulders in reassurance. "They will bring the emerald back, okay?" She then faced TT and Red, her expression softening at their conditions. "And you two will be fixed up, good as new! There will be no hints of Bat left on you."

The image of that robot left Red frowning. "Hopefully there will be no hints of Bat period when the group comes back." Maybe they would get Eggman to take an early retirement as well, but he knew that was wishful thinking. He'd learned that this Eggman was extremely stubborn.

At the sound of a shocked gasp, Red snapped his attention to Cream, who was now standing in the doorway. She was looking at TT's supported form. "Do you need a place to lay down, Mr. TT?"

"Yeah, we should get him inside," Red uttered for the kit, walking into the home.

"He can use my room!" Cream said and, after giving TT another concerned glance, took the lead. "The soft mattress should let him rest a little easier!"

Red followed her through the living room, nodding in greeting to Blaze and Vanilla, who were both sharing a couch. He noticed the absence of others who were supposed to be here as well, but he pushed that to the back of his mind for now. TT's breathy whines were more important.

When they reached the bedroom, Red carefully placed TT down on the ruffled sheets, hearing a muffled hiss from the kit. Worry flooded Cream's features when she asked, "Do you want any ice?" TT nodded, and the bunny dashed out of the room. Red didn't know how much ice would dull the pain of an internal injury, but something was better than nothing, he guessed.

"Th-Thank you…" the kid murmured, getting comfortable on a pillow.

"Don't mention it." Red reached up to scratch the back of his head, wincing at the pain that accompanied the action. He couldn't be surprised. Bat had shown no mercy when he'd blasted him into a cliff.

TT must've caught the expression. "Are y-you okay?"

Red waved him off because his injuries paled in comparison to the fox's. "I will be. Don't worry about it."

TT didn't get a chance to respond, for Rosy shuffled into the room with two ice packs in her hands. The pinkette sat on the back of the bed and softly placed one on the dark purple splotch on TT's chest. He sucked in a harsh breath, and she soothed, "I know it hurts, but just keep it on there, okay? It'll take some of the pain away."

It took a moment, but the shock of pain faded, and TT managed to hold the pack in place. Rosy squeezed his leg in comfort before holding the second ice pack out for Red. "I told Cream to make two," she said, eyeing his face. "Your nose has to be bothering you."

"Thanks." Red took it, and instead of pressing it against his muzzle, he held the coldness against the back of his head. The chill replaced the dull pain there, if nothing else. "But I'd rather not chance touching my nose at the moment."

Rosy attempted to smile, but it fell flat. "That's fair." She glanced over at TT, who had closed his eyes and relaxed as much as he could. "I'm…" Rosy sighed, raking her fingers through her quills. "I'm going to stay here with him until they get back. Not really in the mood to talk, you know?"

Red nodded, taking that as his cue to give her space. She wanted some time alone, and he respected that. Rosy's attention was still on TT; there was no point in verbally answering.

With a wave that she surely saw in her periphery, Red turned to leave.

"Knuckles?" Pausing, he peered over his shoulder and rose a brow at her. Rosy was looking at him now, eyes glossy, with her fingers clenching the sheet beside her. She took a deep breath before continuing, "I'm s-so sorry about earlier. I know that losing the emerald wasn't your fault, but I had been angry…" She rubbed at her eyes, but tears began to flow down her cheeks anyway. "So angry and terrified and I-" Rosy choked on her words when one of her hands was suddenly grabbed.

TT's eyes were damp as well, but the squeeze he gave her fingers seemed to distract her enough from her downward spiraling thoughts. Exhaling shakily, Rosy repeated, "I'm sorry for blaming you."

Despite having minimal experience in the comforting department, Red went over and placed a hand on her shoulder. When she peered up at him through the stagnant tears, he muttered, "I was never angry in the first place, so don't kick yourself when you're already down." He patted her before stepping away, giving a subtle grin. "Plus, you know me. Keeping a grudge takes too much energy."

He got Rosy to giggle, the sound heavy with emotion. TT smiled beside her.

Happy with that for now, Red jabbed his thumb towards the door and asked, "Want me to close it?"

Rosy nodded, sniffling. "Yeah. Tails probably wants to rest a little before they get back."

With no other words, Red did so and rejoined with the others talking in the living room. They quieted when he entered, Amy taking the initiative in asking, "How are they?"

"They'll be fine." Red claimed the empty spot they graciously left him on the couch. He settled beside Blaze, relaxing his sore body. He ran a hand down his face and sighed. "Bat was seriously the last thing we needed today."

"You can say that again!" Charmy was hovering around in the air. "And I feel bad that we weren't there to help you guys out with the bot!"

Espio stood beside Red, guilt in his expression. "Bat wouldn't have done so much damage if we had."

Red waved them off. The fight and the outcome hadn't been fun, but at least they had gotten something out of it. "You all had a job to do, and there was no way of knowing that the bot would've shown up in the first place." He stifled a yawn. "And well, if we hadn't found the emerald and run into him, then Eggman would've had it without us knowing."

"I suppose that's true." Espio reluctantly relented, glancing back in the direction of the bedroom.

Vector was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. "Let's all hope that Sonic's group can get the emerald back with no problems."

Blaze rose a brow at him. "Is there any doubt considering who went?"

"I know, but Eggman bounced back way too fast for my tastes! He's gotta have some type of plan, and well, Boom tagged along. We all know that he isn't exactly a team player."

Red shrugged. "But everyone else is. They'll keep him in check if he needs it." Boom had always been adamant about working alone, but this should be one of the exceptions. He wouldn't ruin the mission like that. Hopefully.

The conversation lulled then, and Red figured that it was time for a topic change. "Where are the others?" He assumed that Rogue, VC, CB, and Rouge would be here too when they had gotten back.

Amy responded, sitting on the floor beside Cream. "They went to pick up some pizza for all of us! They actually left right before you got here." She then jumped to her feet. "That reminds me! Do any of you want a cookie before they get back?"

Charmy stilled in the air, brightening. "Ooo ooo! Yes! Where are they?"

Espio shook his head in slight exasperation. "At least wait until we eat lunch, Charmy. You-"

"They're chocolate chip," Amy cut in with a small grin.

Charmy and Vector perked up, and Espio's resolve seemed to crumble. "Are they in the kitchen?"

"Yep! Grab one each!"

"Snag me one," Red told Espio as the trio moved toward the kitchen. He deserved the treat after the struggles he'd gone through today. "And take some to Rosy and TT too."

Because they sure as hell needed the pick-me-up.

Mephiles squinted against the late afternoon sun, smiling in relief at the familiar home steadily growing in the distance.

He was more than ready to end their mission and return the emerald to Rosy – hopefully along with her hearing – so he could rest and clean his sore body.

Mephy's smile waned when he looked down at the black gunk on his arm, wondering what in the world it was. Sonic had told him that he had thrown it up in the pyramid, and he could believe that because it was similar to the liquid he had coughed up when he woke up in Cream's house.

That was what concerned him. This wasn't normal. Of course, being revived from the dead wasn't either; but the fact that no one else knew what it was raised many red flags.

Well, he assumed no one knew. Of course Boom, Nummy, and Grey wouldn't have a clue, but there had been a chance that the rest might have. Unfortunately, Sonic, Silver, Shadow, and Tails said that they didn't. Something was off about them, though. He couldn't put a finger on it.

Sonic was still as chatty as ever, Silver and Tails still made conversation, and Shadow was still…Shadow, but the atmosphere wasn't the same as it had been on the way to the pyramid.

Maybe they were simply concerned about his memory-wiping black out and the strange mess he'd made on himself. That could be it…

"Home, sweet home!" Sonic's peppy voice ousted his confused thoughts. The blue speedster was leaning forward on the wing of the plane, grinning down at the incoming home. He then peered over at Penumbra, who was being mentally carried by Grey. Nummy hadn't had the strength to hold on the entire ride. "You made it back without passin' out on us! I'm proud of ya!"

Grey, having taken Penumbra's place on the wing beside Shadow, praised him as well. "You really are something else! With that arm, I would've been out a long time ago."

Penumbra barely seemed to be hanging onto consciousness, but a small smile grew on his face anyway. It looked more like a grimace. "Thank you…"

Mephiles watched the other's arm hang limply, blood dripping from his fingertips. He hoped that the Chaos emerald had remained at the house, ready for use. Penumbra needed reprieve from the pain pronto.

"Hey, look!" Mephy's attention snapped ahead to where Tails was pointing. He followed his finger and saw their friends flooding out of the house, colorful blobs contrasting the green yard. "Guess they were listening real hard for us!"

Mephiles didn't blame them. The emerald was pretty important, and they had been gone for a long while. Anyone would be getting a little antsy.

Tails lowered the plane to come in for a landing, and they heard happy cheers coming from below. Grey was waving the mysterious gem around with his powers, gaining the attention of everyone including Rosy. She was standing wide-eyed, her smile threatening to split her face in half.

The happiness of the group somewhat waned when the plane slid to a stop. Mephiles wasn't surprised because his and Penumbra's conditions weren't the greatest. Luckily, only he and Nummy had gotten the short end of the stick during the mission.

"Nummy! Mephy!" CB was the first to approach, darting anxiously through the air. "What happened?! You look hurt and…and gross!" he bluntly pointed out, scrunching his nose up at Mephiles' mess.

"Hurt is an understatement," Blaze commented with a frown, watching as Grey carefully lowered a bloodied Penumbra to the ground. He was cradling his arm close to his body. "What happened?"

Sonic hopped down from the wing. "Eggman had a couple surprises up his sleeve that threw everyone for a loop. They'll be alright!" He scanned the crowd, asking, "Who has the Chaos emerald?"

"I do, Blue." Rouge spoke up, holding out the shining gem. "Never let it out of my sight."

"Cool! Now let Nummy have it so he can-"

"He can't do it anywhere near here." Shadow interrupted, leaving the plane as well. He crossed his arms and nodded in the direction of the magenta emerald floating by Grey. "The last thing we need is for that one to teleport away again."

Cream gained his attention, pointing into the house. "Mr. TT needs to be healed too! Could Mr. Penumbra use the Chaos emerald in there?"

At Shadow's hesitation, Rouge shrugged. "I think it should be fine. The emerald didn't react until you had been right on top of Mephiles here."

Mephy recalled the disaster he had left in Cream's room and hoped nothing of that nature happened again.

When Shadow didn't oppose, Rouge tossed the gem over to Penumbra. He caught it with his usable hand and took a step forward only to stumble, barely able to keep his balance.

"I got you!" Silver was quick to act, wrapping him up in a cyan aura. Nummy mumbled something similar to a thanks, and Silver wasted no time in guiding the striped hedgehog inside.

Mephy couldn't help but feel a little guilty as he finally got out of the plane, worried about his abused side. He knew that he had pulled some kind of miracle with the strange laser he apparently shot, but he had been completely useless up until then with Penumbra taking most of the hits.

He sighed, but the sound turned into a silent hiss when he tried to stand, his muscles pulling in all the wrong ways. Sitting still in a stiff plane seat the whole flight probably didn't help with the bruises.

"Need some help?"

Mephiles glanced over to see Red standing by him, smiling. Mephy returned the expression but shook his head. He didn't want to dirty the echidna with the black stuff all over him, despite his body needing all the help it could get.

Red seemed to understand, examining his condition as he somewhat clumsily clambered out of the plane. Red gave him some space, brow raised. "I knew that you came back from the dead, but I hadn't expected you to look like an actual zombie."

Yeah, Mephy agreed that he didn't look the best, and his movement wasn't the smoothest either. Healing with the emerald again should get him back to normal – well, as normal as he could get after the explosion.

He meekly shrugged in response before realizing how quiet the yard had gotten. Mephy looked over, and his eyes widened at the sight of Rosy holding the strange emerald. Everyone was watching her, but she was staring at the jewel.

Mephiles didn't know how long the silence went on for, but it felt like an eternity before Grey hesitantly asked, "Did it work?"

Rosy looked up at him with watery eyes and a bright smile. A laugh bubbled out of her throat as she gleefully nodded.

Grey wasted no time in scooping her up and twirling her around in the air, Rosy's surprised gasp turning into carefree giggles.

Her happiness was contagious, for nearly everyone was laughing or smiling at the development. Mephiles was in the latter category, immensely relieved that they had managed to retrieve the emerald. He knew that it wasn't permanent, but it was better than the silence she didn't deserve.

When Grey placed Rosy back on the ground, she wiped away her tears with her unoccupied hand. "I've been crying way too much these last few days." She fanned her face, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. "It's just… you don't take hearing your own voice for granted until…"

Her voice cracked at the end, and Amy was at her side in an instant, wrapping a comforting arm around her. "It's okay to let it all out! You've been through a lot!" Rosy gave her a thankful smile. Amy returned it before continuing, "And there won't be a reason to cry anymore. We're going to find a way to make this permanent! Right, everyone?"

"Right!" Tails hovered closer, gazing at the gem in wonder. "I've gotta do a lot of research on the emerald to know the ins and outs of its powers, but we should find a way!"

Rosy nodded, sniffling and trying to hold her tears at bay again. "Thank you…" She then swept the yard, looking at the ones who had just returned. "Thank all of you so much for finding the emerald. I know that wasn't just for me, but still."

Sonic smiled and gave her a thumbs up. "Of course! After hearing what it could do, we couldn't just leave it alone, y'know? We had to help! That's what friends are for!"

"Friends, huh?" Rosy drifted her attention towards Boom.

He leaned against the plane, scowling. "Don't go assuming shit."

"Sure." Despite his harsh tone, Rosy's smile didn't fade. Boom scoffed and turned his head away. Rosy then faced Mephiles, making her way over to him. "And Mephy…I know it was an accident, but without this emerald, I wouldn't have as much hope as I do now."

Mephiles rubbed the back of his neck, unsure if he should actually take the praise for this. Like she said, it had been completely accidental. On the other hand, the gem wouldn't be in its current state without him.

Rosy stopped in front of him, eyeing his body. "I would hug you, but uh…" she teased, gesturing to the mess.

Mephy guessed that it was about time he should get cleaned up. He signed, "I'll go rinse off," as simply as he could before moving in the direction of the home. He didn't go far, for Rosy stopped him.

"Hey, wait. I've got an idea!" She looked from his hands to the emerald in her own. Her expression grew pensive. "I don't know if you even want this, but… if the emerald can give me back my hearing, do you think it could let you talk?"

Mephiles froze in shock. The thought had never before crossed his mind.

"Whoa…" Charmy's eyes were blown wide. "Can it really do that?!"

Red shrugged. "It should. The emerald would be doing the opposite of what it is now. Instead of letting Rosy hear our voices, we would be able to hear Mephiles'."

"Is there nothing this gem can't do?" VC grinned at Mephy. "You gotta try it out! I'm sure we've all wondered what you sound like at least once!"

"Yeah! You gotta!" CB excitedly encouraged, darting around in the air.

Rosy giggled. "I guess you don't really have a choice." She held the jewel out, a subtle hint of doubt marring her features. "If we both touch it, I should still be able to hear. Hopefully."

Mephiles stared at the emerald as emotions clashed within him. He could barely process this because he'd been without a voice his whole life, completely silent. There had been times when he'd wonder what he would've sounded like, but he knew that thinking about it wouldn't change how things were. He had accepted that he had gotten the short end of the stick in the voice department and moved on.

Now the impossibility was being handed to him as a free gift.

But would it be my real voice? Mephiles thought, the doubts rolling in. How would it know if I never had one? If it did figure it out, would I like it? What if it actually didn't work and I'm given this false hope-

"Are you okay, Mephy?"

Rosy was peering up at him, concerned, and Mephiles smothered all of the negativity in his head. He wouldn't know until he went for it.

Mephy gave a reassuring smile before hesitantly touching the gem with his fingertips. Rosy released a relieved breath as he opened and closed his mouth, nervous.

Mentally pushing himself, he inhaled and shakily uttered, "Hello?" He gasped when he actually spoke and rubbed his throat with his hand. It was deeper than he imagined it, almost gravelly. He couldn't bring himself to hate it.

It turned out that the others were in the same boat.

Rosy gaped and stared at him in amazement. "Oh my gosh…"

"That's what you sound like?" CB buzzed around his head, equally in awe. "It's so cool!"

Rogue laughed. "It's a deeper voice than mine! Kinda jealous, bro!"

Mephiles softly chuckled, his happiness skyrocketing at the sound. "Thank you," he said, testing his voice. "I…" He trailed off at the sight of movement to his left. Glancing over, he saw Silver standing in the doorway, and the look he saw made the rest of his words die in his throat.

Silver tried to hide it when they locked gazes, but Mephiles caught the shock, the wariness, and the borderline panic before a halfhearted smile attempted to cover it up.

Mephy blinked before snapping his attention to Blaze, Amy, Tails, Rouge, and Sonic. They all shared those emotions to some degree. It was written all over their faces. He saw Boom frowning at them, probably confused as to why. He hadn't put together the pieces yet.

Mephiles had, though. Especially since Shadow had the same piercing stare he had when they first met. Shadow didn't hide it when Mephy looked at him, unwavering.

Nearly all confidence fled Mephiles' tone when he murmured, "I…sound like him, don't I?" He quickly retracted his fingers from the gem and signed, "Sorry."

Sonic recovered first, waving his hands in front of himself. "It's fine, really! It caught us off guard, that's all!"

That wasn't all, and Mephiles knew it. His evil double had caused trouble in the past, and Mephiles hated that he might've brought back buried memories. Why hadn't he thought about this earlier?

Guilt-ridden, he gestured to the home. "I'll be back." He left the yard and ignored the voices calling for him to stay. Silver had stepped to the side for him to enter. He seemed like he wanted to say something, but he remained quiet.

Mephiles somehow managed an apologetic smile before moving on, remembering where the bathroom was and wincing as his bruises disagreed with his hastiness. When he entered the bathroom, he heard soft voices down the hallway. TT and Penumbra must still be healing.

He thought about checking up on them, but…he needed some time to himself.

Outside, Shadow was tense, staring at the open front door. He should probably feel bad about what had just happened, but he couldn't. Coincidences were adding up. He refused to ignore them.

Mephiles coming back to life was a shock; however, it could be explained. Same with the laser back at the pyramid. What couldn't be explained was the black goo that had been coughed up after doing so, and now Mephiles had the same voice?

That didn't make any sense. From what Shadow knew of this strange emerald, it tapped into the minds of the one controlling it and projected illusions onto others. If that was the case, then Mephiles' voice shouldn't be near identical to the other one's. He couldn't possibly know what the dead twin sounded like; so why did the emerald know?

Shadow clenched his jaw. He needed answers.

He was ousted from his troubling thoughts when Grey's angered voice cut through them. "Did you have to make him feel bad about it?" The psychic glared at the ones to blame. "It's not even his fault!"

"Yeah!" CB frowned in the direction Mephiles left. "That was mean!"

Blaze crossed her arms, tail twitching. "It's not like we did it on purpose," she crisply defended herself. "Like Sonic said, it caught us off guard."

"But why would it?" Red asked with a subtle frown. "Everyone here sounds the same as their double, so why would Mephiles be any different?"

"Don't forget that you acted similarly when I first encountered you and Rosy." Espio reminded him. "You two were extremely wary, and she almost attacked me. At least they hadn't gone that far."

Rosy stubbornly shook her head. "That was different! We had no idea that you weren't Sabo, but we all know now that Mephy is a good guy!"

Shadow slightly narrowed his eyes at her words, for that statement wasn't as set in concrete as it had been. Wanting to end this argument, he stepped forward and snapped, "The last time we heard Mephiles' voice was when Sonic was dead on the ground and our world was on the edge of ruin." As expected, silence reigned afterward. Shadow wasn't done. "He was a deceitful manipulator, he killed anyone in his way without remorse, and he came pretty damn close to erasing all of existence just for power." A growl had leaked into his voice by this point. "So excuse us for being a bit surprised."

Rosy had lost some of her fight at this point, but she still said, "I still feel bad for him." She held the emerald closer, her gaze steady. "He finally has a voice after all this time, and now he probably won't use it because of the guilt he doesn't deserve."

Rouge gave him a meaningful glance, and Shadow harshly exhaled to calm himself down. He was getting too riled up at the memories. "We'll talk to him later."

Rosy didn't seem happy with that. "Well, I'm going to check on him now."

"You can't take that back there with you," Shadow stated, regarding the gem she held. The pinkette paused mid-stride and bit her lip. There was an obvious war going on in her mind.

Tails gave her a wobbly smile, still recuperating from that little argument. "How about…we start a little on the research until he comes back?"

Turning away from the door, Rosy glanced at him. "What kind of research?"

Tails pointed to the glowing jewel. "At the base, Eggman used the emerald to make illusions of Bat to confuse us. I just want to see if you can manage to do that too."

Rosy blinked in surprise, along with many others. The atmosphere shifted for the better with the change of topic. "Illusions of him?"

"Yep!" Sonic affirmed. He scratched his cheek, huffing. "Fake ones and real ones too! Egghead had figured the gem out pretty fast."

"Whoa, hold up. Are you pulling our legs here, dude?" Rogue looked between him and the emerald. "I mean, I guess the fake ones make sense with the illusions and stuff, but the real ones? Like, you can touch them?"

"Yeah," the speedster replied. "But they were way weaker than the actual Bat. They went down in like two hits. No sweat at all!"

"Luckily," Red muttered. "Because dealing with more than one Bat would've been a chore. How did you manage to find the real one hiding in all of them?"

Grey sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I know we said that we would take care of Bat, but we actually didn't get to that."

Rosy was wide-eyed, speechless, so Amy took the initiative to speak. "Are you serious?!" When no one admitted it as a joke, she understandably started yelling. "We told you guys that Bat has a tracker! Why wouldn't you destroy him?"

"Calm down, Ames!" Sonic held his hands up innocently. "You saw the condition Nummy was in!" Shadow appreciated him leaving out Mephiles' mysterious spell. "We had to leave because of him, and because the base was huge! We wouldn't have been able to track him down without risking losing the emerald."

"But still! You should've done something!" Amy gestured over to Rosy, who had stiffened up. "Because now, if Bat comes for the emerald, he'd come for her and-"

"He's not a threat," Shadow curtly interrupted her. Before anyone – Red or Rosy – could oppose, he added, "You're staying at the Chaotix's place, so I'm sure you'll have enough protection there." His eyes flickered over at Espio, and the chameleon nodded. "I'll have Omega guard as well for safety's sake."

If Rosy was relieved by this, it didn't show. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Rosy disregarded everything that Shadow said, instead asking, "D-Do I have to make a copy of Bat? I don't want him anywhere near here, fake or otherwise."

"It doesn't have to be him!" Tails warmly reassured. "It can be anyone you want."

"Kay…" Rosy muttered, focusing on the emerald. For a moment, nothing but the rustling of distant leaves was heard – until a figure popped into existence beside her.

A few heroes gasped at the sudden appearance of a specific blue hedgehog. Rosy was one of them, clutching her chest.

Sonic whistled lowly as he approached the newly created doppelganger. It silently watched with a blank stare, unresponsive when Sonic poked a finger right through its chest.

Sonic walked around and examined it, grinning. "Yep, it's an accurate copy alright!"

"Is it, though?" Rouge sauntered up next to him, eyeing the illusion. "The look is down, but the unnerving blank stare isn't cutting it, Blue. Did the fake Bats talk?"

"Too much." Shadow grunted, unsure whether having the emerald be so easy to use was a good thing or not. All the more reason to keep it protected. He addressed Rosy, "Can you give it a personality?"

"Um…sure?" She fell silent again, concentrating, and the illusion's expression instantly scowled.

It shot everyone within five feet a harsh glare. "The fuck you all close to me for? I'm always grumpy and unapproachable, so give me my space, dammit!"

There was a chorus of chuckles around the yard, and Boom's scowl matched the illusion's. "Fuck off," he spat.

Sonic smirked at him. "You can't lie, it's a perfect impression!"

Grey barked out a laugh. "I'm liking this emerald way more now! Think of the pranks we could pull!"

Shadow shut that idea down instantly. "Don't. It's not a toy. It's far too dangerous for someone to play with." He judged the glowering fake for another second before saying, "Make it tangible."

"This is so weird…" Rosy muttered as she did so, watching aptly as the Boom illusion lost its scowl, expressionless again.

Sonic poked the fake's chest again, but this time, there was some resistance. "It's just like at the base! The real clones had no personality."

"Thankfully." Shadow approached and shoved the clone backwards. It stumbled over its feet but remained balanced. Those eyes remained emotionless. He hummed in thought. "So, there was a clear difference between the two." Beneficial knowledge for later. "Now, make it-"

Shadow's next words were swallowed up by the sound of a fist smashing against a jaw. Rosy gasped in surprise when the copy careened to the side, Red hopping away to avoid getting hit. The illusion limply slid across the ground and faded away before it came to a complete stop.

Shadow stared at the empty spot, processed what just happened, and gave Boom a level stare. The blue hedgehog was standing in front of him with a clenched fist and a satisfied smirk.

Boom lowered his arm, flexing his fingers. "I've always wanted to do that."

Sonic rolled his eyes and smirked. "Do what? Punch yourself in the face?" Boom turned to snap back at him, but Sonic pointed at something over his twin's shoulder. "You better watch out before you get a taste of your own medicine!"

"Wha-" Boom peered back and hastily ducked a punch aimed for his nose. He scowled, backpedaling away from the same illusion as before. Rosy must've made another one. Its blank stare was trained on him as it slipped in a crouched position, ready to fight. Boom glared at Rosy, and she flashed him an unapologetic smile.

"Thought you could get a stupid cheap shot in?" Boom bit, speeding over and roundhouse kicking the copy in the head before it could react. It faded away again, red glitches surrounding the body, and Boom scoffed. "You need to try harder than that."

Rosy shrugged, almost looking proud of herself. "I had the chance, so I thought I should try. I knew you'd avoid it."

Boom's glare didn't let up.

Grey chuckled as he floated to Rosy's side, nudging her. "Now we know not to get on her bad side! She could make anything happen!"

"Again, this is not a toy." Shadow couldn't emphasize this enough. Having illusions distort someone's reality and having the ability to produce tangible copies was extremely dangerous under the wrong circumstances. The last thing they needed was for the gem to go haywire. He gave Rosy a pointed look. "I hope you realize that."

The pinkette sobered up a bit, her voice growing soft. "Of course I do, Shadow. No toy would be able to give me my hearing back." Rosy held up the magenta emerald, eyes shining with interest. "So…what should I do next?"

Gadget resisted the urge to fidget in his seat, taking deep breaths to calm his nerves. He closed his eyes to protect them from the buzzing fluorescent lights above and willed himself to not drift off then and there.

Ever since the phone call, his day had been a whirlwind. He'd regretfully skipped out on all of his classes, was in a frenzy trying to catch a last-minute flight, and he had been on the verge of a heart attack until he was accepted despite how close he had arrived to the prison's closing time.

There was always the option to visit tomorrow, to not push himself so hard; but when it came to that jackal…the sooner the better.

Propping his elbows on the table in front of him, Gadget took off his glasses and rested his forehead in his palms. He didn't want to see him. He had gone this long without being in his presence, so what had happened to change that?

How did he get caught?

It couldn't have been because of Gadget. No. He had triple-checked the validity of the client. He didn't make a mistake. His life was on the line; he couldn't afford to make a mistake.

But would Infinite believe that? Gadget figured that he wouldn't. The jackal had been found by Sonic and Shadow, for crying out loud.

Gadget had to make him understand that it had been a total coincidence. He didn't know how or why the beloved hero had been mixed up in it, but he had to make sure Infinite understood that it wasn't his fault that this happened.

Infinite had promised protection if and only if he did his job correctly. The jackal couldn't hurt him from jail, that was true, but he had outside connections. Too many connections that could easily…

Gadget shakily exhaled. He distracted himself from his intruding thoughts by listening to the snippets of conversation echoing around the sizable room he was in.

While he had arrived at the prison late at night, he wasn't the only person visiting the inmates. He'd passed by wives, friends, and children talking into a phone to prisoners, separated by a thick pane of glass.

Gadget only wished that the glass secured his own safety.

He froze when a door slammed in the distance, and his breath caught in his throat at the sound of footsteps coming his way.

He couldn't act like this. Considering how he hadn't been contacted by the police or anything, the measures taken to hide his contribution to the… business had worked. If he acted suspicious now, he could say goodbye to his own future.

Gadget swallowed thickly before sitting up and donning his glasses once more. He forced an unbothered expression as a guard walked in front of his window, gesturing at the chair on the opposite side of the glass.

He struggled to save face when Infinite sat down, those heterochromatic eyes automatically finding Gadget's. The urge to fidget was even stronger as that piercing gaze hardened. The guard said something to Infinite, and he simply nodded. A few seconds later, they were left alone.

He had thirty minutes to prove his innocence.

Infinite picked up the phone first, and Gadget followed suit with trembling fingers.

His heart was pounding against his chest at the silence on the other end, the anticipation killing him. Infinite didn't seem to care. He took his time in getting as comfortable as he could in the metal chair, leaning an arm on the table.

Finally, he asked, "Your voice came back yet?"

He was still acting, and Gadget understood. This conversation could be recorded as well. The wolf cleared his throat, dispelling any shakiness. "Uh…yeah. It got stronger after you called this morning. Took some medicine like you said."

"Good." Infinite grunted, a frown growing on his muzzle afterwards. Despite how calm his words were, the simmering anger in his stare let Gadget know that he was already walking on thin ice. The jackal tapped a finger on the table, sighing. "So, what do you think about my little situation here? Probably nothin' good."

"I…" He had to choose his words carefully here. He could do this. "I just never thought that you would resort to something so low." Resorting to his near nonexistent acting skills, Gadget pulled out a weak glare. "You've killed people!"

I've killed people.

The thought thundered in his mind, making his breathing stutter. It helped sell his next line. "How c-could you?"

There was a ghost of a smirk on the jackal's face like he was reading his thoughts. It disappeared when Infinite dispassionately shrugged. "It's easy money."

Gadget knew better than that. The pay was nothing but a side benefit. Infinite was in it for power and enjoyment. He'd seen him kill once. The bloodstained smile he wore afterwards haunted Gadget's nightmares.

Infinite didn't let him respond. He continued, "I didn't mean for you to find out about this shit. You're a good friend, trustworthy." There it was. Gadget bit the inside of his cheek when the tapping stopped. "I tried to keep it all secret."

Gadget's pulse pounded in his ears. His grip on the phone tightened. "But you know how stupid and dangerous being a mercenary is! Did…Did you really think that someone wouldn't ever be able to trace your tracks?" The jackal's brow marginally furrowed. Gadget inwardly cheered because he needed the other to understand. "Why would you stoop so low to take such an immoral job with those insanely high risks?"

"The risks weren't high," Infinite retorted, some of the anger in his eyes leaking into his tone. "Until those damn heroes showed up."

"Can you really be surprised? You're a mercenary!" Gadget almost wanted to savor this moment because he hadn't been foolish enough to be this brutally honest in the past. "Isn't Shadow part of the military or something? It makes sense that he was the one to find you."

Infinite narrowed his eyes. "They never cared before."

Oh, how Gadget wished he could scream that he didn't tip them off. "Well…there hasn't been any news about Eggman for a while, so now they have time to chase down scum like you."

A claw scraped against the table. Gadget gulped; he had laid it on too thick.

He nervously adjusted his glasses and added, "Shadow is some kind of super-soldier. I wouldn't be surprised if he has an ability to track people down."

Infinite scrutinized him, eyes searching for something that wasn't there. Gadget held his breath as the silence stretched on, hoping that he was in the clear.

The wolf only exhaled when Infinite looked away for the first time, his lips turned down in a scowl. "Just my shitty luck."

Gadget felt relief flood his system when the jackal met his gaze again. There was anger, but it was no longer aimed at him. However, the amount of suspicion there told Gadget that he wasn't completely out of the woods yet. But he had a good start.

Infinite clicked his tongue in irritation. "It was only a matter of time, huh?"

"Yeah." Gadget agreed, absently scratching his arm. "And now you're stuck here where you belong."

There was another almost-smirk. Gadget didn't know what to make of that. The jackal ran a hand down his face for show. "I get you're upset about me fucking up, and that you'll never forgive me."

"Never," he emphasized, voice hushed. Gadget would never forgive him. That jackal made him send so many people to their deaths-

"I deserve that." Infinite's unrepentant words snapped him out of his thoughts. Gadget took another deep breath to steady himself. Infinite watched him and said, "And I feel bad for missing your little cousin's science fair today. Did you make it to that?"

Gadget's head spun from the abrupt topic change, especially because all of his cousins were older than him. And they weren't anywhere near Infinite's field of influence. Gadget was the only unlucky one. "No," he said, not understanding where the jackal was going with this lie. "I…had to miss it in my hurry to get here."

Infinite quirked a brow. "Was I really that important, Wolfy?"

"She…" Chaos, Gadget wished that he had gotten a script for this. He was trying hard to not flounder like a dying fish. "She'll have more."

"Yeah, yeah. That's true. She'll have plenty more after elementary school. It's just that she'd been so excited to show us her…what was it again?" Infinite pretended to think. "An electromagnet, right? One that she made by herself?"

Now, Gadget wasn't stupid. He had gotten a full ride to his dream college for a reason, but why would Infinite want to build an electromagnet? Gadget pictured how unbothered the jackal was when he mentioned his jail sentence, saw how the inmate was patiently waiting now, and…

How would an electromagnet make your life in jail any easier?

But Gadget couldn't ask that, and he couldn't dodge the question either. Infinite knew that he knew how to make a simple one, thanks to his pursuit in engineering.

Looking back now, Gadget wished that he had never become interested in technology in the first place.

The pause didn't go on for too long. He muttered quietly into the phone, "Y-Yeah, it's crazy what she can do with a screw, copper wire, and a battery…" He then raised his voice. "But why do you still care? All you care about is killing people. She and the rest of our friends will stop caring about you once they hear what you've done, if they already haven't."

"Harsh." Infinite didn't even pretend to be offended. He sent a heated glare, a cold chill running down Gadget's spine. "Where in the hell did you buy that backbone, Wolfy? Never had it before."

Lies and reality faded together, and Gadget was unsure of how to react. When he finally opened his mouth, a fist slammed down on the table. He stiffened in his seat as Infinite leaned closer to the window.

The jackal's teeth were bared, his hackles were raised, and Gadget wanted to be anywhere else right now. "I called you here to patch things up, but since you'd rather spit this shit back in my face, we're done here."

Gadget was speechless when Infinite dropped the phone, leaving it clattering against the table. The jackal stood up and walked away without another look. The sound of clanking metal came through on Gadget's end. The guard must be handcuffing him again.

Forcing his rapid heart rate down, Gadget properly replaced the phone and hoped that this was the last time he'd ever have to see that murderer.

With him gone, maybe his life could go back to normal.

Gadget slumped back against his chair and stressfully rubbed his forehead.

Now, I have to find a place to sleep…

"We need to talk."

Those words echoed around Mephiles' head as he stepped into Shadow's apartment. It was crisp and clean, kind of what he expected. It was nothing like Rogue's apartment, where things were strung about.

His attention drifted down to the couch in the middle of the living room, which was actually a futon that should be more comfortable than Sonic's couch.

Hearing the door close behind him, Mephiles wondered what in the world they were going to talk about. Everyone had already apologized earlier today about the voice thing while Rosy played around with the emerald.

He wasn't going to use the gem to give himself a voice despite his friends warming up to it. The reminder would still be there, and thinking about it made his gut churn.

As time had ticked on, the sun lowering in the sky, Shadow had offered up his apartment for him to crash at and uttered those four cryptic words.

Mephiles took the offer because a futon was bigger than a couch, he was curious about what this 'talk' was, and honestly, saying no to Shadow frightened him a bit. They were friends – at least, he thought so – but he was still intimidating when he wanted to be.

Especially when Mephiles had talked for the first time…

"I'll get you a blanket in a moment. But first." Mephy turned around to see Shadow staring him down. He frowned in confusion, even more curious about the topic at hand. Shadow crossed his arms and asked, "Has anything strange happened to you since you woke up from the grave?"

Strange? Strange as in what? Mephy glanced down at his hands and mouthed, "New powers-"

"Besides them." Shadow pressed, gesturing to Mephiles' now clean fur. "Was the pyramid the first time you've seen that black gunk?"

Mephy had no idea where this was coming from, but maybe his black-out today had stirred up some worry. Mephiles could understand that, considering that he didn't have a clue as to what happened either.

He shook his head in response, recalling when he first woke up. Some of that black stuff had come out of his mouth, but he thought that was just his mind playing tricks on him. Apparently, he'd been wrong.

"At Cream's house when I first woke up." Mephiles mouthed slowly, pointing to the side of his mouth. "Some came out when I coughed."

Shadow frowned. "When you coughed?" he repeated for affirmation, and Mephiles nodded. There was a brief pause; Mephy almost wanted the power to read minds. Shadow then asked, "Has it happened any other time?"

He shook his head. An uneasiness settled in him when the other's frown deepened. Mephiles almost signed as a knee-jerk reaction, but instead he silently questioned, "Is there something wrong with me?"

Something in Shadow's gaze hardened. "I don't know."

Mephiles didn't entirely believe him. Ever since coming back from the base – heck, since he'd come back from being dead– Shadow had been acting off. He just stared. There had to be a reason, right?

Oblivious to his thoughts, Shadow continued, "Besides that and the powers, anything else?"

"Not really…no."

"Have you heard any voices?" Mephiles blinked in surprise, completely thrown off by that question. What did he mean by voices? His confusion must've shown in his expression, for Shadow explained, "From what we understand, the emerald taps into the mind of the one using it to carry out its powers. Rosy isn't deaf while holding it because it's manipulating a part of her brain to allow her to hear. Someone imagines an illusion, and the emerald makes the people around see it too."

Mephiles slowly nodded, understanding the information. But what did it have to do with him hearing voices?

Shadow answered that when he took a step forward, his tone steely. "The emerald shouldn't have picked that voice for you unless you've heard it before. Have you?"

Mephy was going to say no, but a thought stopped him. Had he heard it before? Maybe it did sound familiar, but where…

He stiffened when he remembered…remembered something. It was in the pyramid, right before he blacked out. He had been panicking while he and Penumbra were surrounded by ghosts. Within his jumbled thoughts, there had been a whisper lost in the whirlwind. He forgot what it said, but it had been there.

Mephiles keenly watched Shadow's reaction when he nodded. "Before the laser."

Shadow attempted to keep his expression controlled, but Mephy didn't miss the way his eyes marginally widened and how tense he became. "What did it say?" His voice was tighter, gruffer.

Mephy dug deep, but he came up with nothing. "I don't remember." Shadow was borderline glaring at him now, through him. He seemed lost in his own head, and Mephiles bit his lip. If Shadow was acting like this, something was wrong. Very wrong.

He chanced a step forward, eyes pleading for Shadow to tell the truth. He had never been normal to begin with, but this was too much. "What's…wrong with me?"

"I already said that I don't know," Shadow hissed through gritted teeth, and Mephy flinched back at the unexpected anger. Shadow closed his eyes for a moment and took a breath; when they reopened, he was a bit more composed. "But if anything strange happens again, let me know immediately. Understand?"

Mephiles wanted to argue against that blatant lie – he was the one being affected, after all – but maybe there was a reason he wasn't telling him? There had to be one that he couldn't think of. Shadow wouldn't keep something to himself without a cause.

Relenting, Mephy nodded once more.

Shadow walked past him. "I'll get you a blanket and some pillows. Make yourself at home." He disappeared down the hallway without another word.

With a long-winded sigh, Mephy went over and plopped down on the futon, letting his muscles relax. He needed to sleep after the craziness of today. He would deal with tomorrow after the sun rose.

That night, Mephiles dreamed of fire.

When Zero returned to his cell, his cellmate was already pretending to be asleep.

He could see his trembling from here.

Yeah, a rookie criminal would be terrified of rooming with someone who could use a toothpick to take a life.

Luckily for him, Zero wasn't planning on staying in this cell for long.

The jackal rubbed his wrists after he was set free from the cuffs. It was close to lights out, so it was quiet enough for him to hear the guard walk away.

That meeting went well, he would say.

There was no evidence – yet – that Gadget had sabotaged anything, and well, it looked like he didn't need many materials for his plan. If the wolf hadn't been lying to him.

"I know you're awake," he said, and his cellmate cowered more under a thin blanket. Zero didn't pity the human. He deserved to be in here if he got caught for robbery. Sloppy.

He walked over and climbed onto the top bunk, flipping over onto his back. Linking his hands under his head, he ordered, "A screw, copper wire, and a battery. Give those to me before noon tomorrow."

That got a response. "H-Huh?" the kid stuttered. Zero heard rustling from below. "W-Where would I-?"

"Not my problem."


"If I have to find them, I'll use the screw to make you choke on your own fucking blood."

There was a whimper, and Zero took that as an okay.

It was silent for a few moments before there was another question. "…W-Why do you want 'em?"

He was about to answer, but the sound of distant beeping distracted him. This has happened every night recently, he'd been told. Around this time, the prisoners holed in solitary confinement were led to the showers to be cleaned.

One was a chameleon with a beeping collar.

Zero smirked. "It's for a science experiment."

I'm gonna love writing Zero, I can already tell.