The summer sun shone over Amy Rose's flower garden. She was kneeling in the dirt in her backyard, face screwed in sweaty concentration, hacking at a stubborn root with a trowel. A bag of potting soil and three little sets of baby blue creeping phlox in their nursery beds sat next to her, waiting to be planted. A woven straw hat with a wide brim kept the sun out of her eyes. No dress today; a sunshine yellow t-shirt with a sunflower pattern beamed under dirty, patched denim overalls. The overalls and her purple floral garden gloves did their best to keep up with the hard work of their owner.
And work hard she did. On the small backyard porch was a large wooden box with faded painted flowers full to bursting with gardening supplies. On either sides of the steps to the door were two L shaped flower patches that burst with color. Petunias in every color of the rainbow shifted in the wind and smiled at the sky. Those sections were finished, and she maintained them every day.
Now, she was digging in the patch that flowed against her backyard fence. It was wide around an oak tree on the right, and narrowed around a stump that she had just severed a dying root from. Flowering vines, cut assiduously away from the other plants on the ground, twined their way up her fence. Yarrow, thin stems with puffs of tiny yellow flowers, and daylilies, petals peachy on the outside and pink within, filled the space around the tree. Blue and purple creeping phlox, small blooms close to the ground, shyly circled the stump and lined the front in stripes, almost completing the picture.
Almost. There were gaps between some of the purple phlox, which Amy was currently trying to fill with blue. More noticeably, there was a circular, empty patch between the peach and the blue in the very center. Something spectacular, she didn't know what, was waiting for its place there. A centerpiece. She had a thousand ideas she loved, and couldn't pick just one.
It helped to have this garden to focus on when Eggman wasn't busy. She was a dynamo, with endless positive energy for whatever she put her mind to. All that energy needed something, anything, to do.
She paused in her hacking. The root was barely hanging on now. Amy gripped it, and twisted until it gave in and snapped.
"There!" she said in satisfaction, throwing it aside. "Stubborn little thing..."
Amy leaned back and sat still for a moment. Phew… She wiped her brow, realizing too late that it would smear dirt on her forehead. Oh well. She was already dirty, and freshly-dug dirt and cut-up plants wasn't an entirely bad smell. Still going to shower later. Working in the sun was a little rough. You got all sweaty and had to be more careful about not dehydrating.
She looked at the flowers waiting to be put in, and decided. She'd take a short break for a drink, and then put these babies in! After that, she could check for any weeding or pruning to be done. And then-... Ooh, she could call Vanilla! And then-
Amy rose to her feet, a skip in her step on her way to her porch, her mind bubbling with plans for the day; soap bubble plans that were replaced as quickly as she thought them up. So many things she could do! So many friends to talk to!
She closed the door behind her. Amy basked for a second in the wonderful air conditioning. Her kitchen, just inside the house from the backyard, was as sweet and light as she was. At the same time, it was definitely lived-in: Little potted plants and magazines and coupons and other things she'd set down to do something with sometime were stacked on the cream-colored counters. Colorful, mismatched magnets dotted the fridge with photos and drawings and postcards. All of her friends could be found somewhere on that fridge. If you knew Amy, you knew her kitchen.
From an upper cabinet she pulled out a glass, and then filled it with water from the tap. Her head was still buzzing with possibilities. Her flip phone, weighed down with a cluster of cute charms, was next to the sink. Near water was a bad place for it to be, but it gave her ideas. She gulped down her water and grabbed the phone, charms clinking together as they brushed against her hand.
Let's see... She was gardening today, so who should she invite over?
Amy decided and her thumb pushed a quick, practiced series of buttons. Contacts, down, down, down, down, down, up because she went down too far, call!
Ring, ring, ring... She muttered to the phone that he had better pick up, but it just rang again. Ring, ring, ring...
A miracle happened, and Shadow actually picked up.
He said, tersely since it was him, "Amy. I'm here."
"Hi!" She had to stop herself from waving; he couldn't see her. "How are you doing? Are you busy?"
"Fine. I'm on-call today— I am not busy at the moment, but I could be later."
Just like him. An exact, literal answer, no small talk. "I was asking," she said doggedly, "because I'm gardening right now, and I was wondering if you wanted to come over and help again? I need to cut back the vines, and plant the last of the phlox. How about it?"
"Hm." A pause. "Still looking for that centerpiece?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah! I forgot I told you about that. So many things would be nice, but I can't choose- Do you want to help me with that?"
A moment of silence before he answered. "No. Not today. Work needs me."
"Aw, okay..." Amy said, pouting. She was disappointed, but not surprised. "Good luck with work. See you later, hopefully?"
With that, he hung up.
Amy's first impulse was to be mad, but Shadow always hung up abruptly. Once he was done, he was done, politeness be darned. Oh well. Her irritation went away as fast as it had come. She could finish the garden today by herself, and then find somebody to go hang out with.
She put down her phone, charms twinkling, and went back to it.
Shadow shut his brick-looking flip phone, and placed it back on Rouge's black kitchen counter. That was its usual place. He wouldn't even have it were it not for G.U.N. insisting that individual squad members be reachable through backup means. Rouge made sure he had actually followed that particular rule.
The mini ear piece he had for a comm (he'd protested) was dependable, so the cheap phone went unused for its intended use. Instead, it had turned into a way for people to bother him.
Granted, some people bothered him more than others. He didn't dislike Amy. Still, work was more important than anything done for-... What was the word. Fun.
Shadow turned around to leave the small kitchen, which was almost as severe as he was. It was nice to look at, white cabinets with sparkling black countertops that Rouge had personally chosen.
But it was clean to an unearthly degree, not even magnets on the fridge. It looked more like a display than a lived-in space. Shadow didn't care for any food that took more than five minutes to prepare, so his kitchen use was limited to the phone and the fridge. Rouge complained, but was often too worn out at the end of the day to bother putting together what she thought of as proper food. Omega, the only other frequent visitor to their apartment, didn't need food at all. The kitchen, then, was only really used for reheating takeout and microwave dinners.
Attached to it, where Shadow went, was the living room. It was also black and white, but more plush, and had shades of light brown where there had to be wooden furniture. Rouge chose almost all of the decor. Almost, since here and there were Shadow's potted plants, which had to be kept alive at all costs. They were gifts from Amy, and living things, and therefore precious.
Rouge was lounging on her white couch, nose in Better Homes and Gardens and socked feet on a fuzzy black ottoman. Shadow knew better than to ask why she wasn't ready and/or in uniform. The speed she could stop relaxing and become ready was admirable, but she wasn't as fast as him. She really couldn't be. He was, by contrast, on guard and ready all of the time.
She looked up from her magazine. "Who called?" She asked. "Work?"
Shadow shook his head. "Amy. She wanted me to come over for gardening. I said no."
"Aw, you did? I thought you enjoyed gardening." She gestured at the nearest plant, a fern in in a grey pot. He nodded.
"We've got time today," Rouge continued, reading correctly that he meant he did, "You could go, if you really wanted to."
"We're on-call, Rouge."
"Ugh, I know. Don't remind me." She shook her head. "I keep telling you, us non-ultimate people need to relax! The last few days have been crazy. With the bombs and the robots and-" She threw up her hands, magazine flapping in her hand. "It wasn't even Eggman! Just some copycat Eggman cult weirdos who hated the postal system, god knows why. But we arrested their leader yesterday," she said defiantly, crossing her arms. "So I'm going to sit down!"
Shadow almost chuckled. He had heard similar speeches before, many times. "I'm not here to stop you from sitting down."
Rouge smiled, catching the dry joke. "Good. I should hope not. But... Look," she leaned forwards in her seat, letting the magazine drop in her lap. "As fast as you are- and with Chaos Control- I'm pretty sure you could find a way to get back from Amy's in time. Even if you were called out over there."
"Why should I go? It'll cause a delay if we're called out."
"It's good for most people to do things that aren't work," she said, her smile now wry. "You know. To have fun, sometimes? To relax?"
Okay, now he knew she was being sarcastic. He did know that it was pleasant to lounge around and do nothing, but there was just no point in doing so most of the time. "I had fun two weeks ago," Shadow said, entirely seriously. "I don't get tired. I don't need to switch to low-energy activity to continue working efficiently."
Rouge sighed. "I'm not talking about needing to rest, Shadow. I know you don't sleep much. I mean mentally tired. Avoiding that is what fun is for. Like, oh…" she thought for a moment. "What happens when a lot of people talk to you in a day? You go home go to your room, because you're done, right?"
That was an example. She was heading somewhere with this. He answered, correctly, "Yes. I don't want to be talked to afterwards."
"Right. It's like that, but with work instead of people talking. Getting some quiet and time to yourself to get ready for people talking again is the fun. It can be practical, since that's your thing. And, to heck with it, it's good for just enjoying life. You focus on work and 'efficiency' all the time. Let yourself do things you wantto do sometimes, for crying out loud!"
"Work is what I want to do, and we're still on call," he said again.
"I know," she said calmly. "You've said."
"It's not the best use of my time."
"You'd be making Amy happy, and presumably enjoying yourself. I think that would be a verygood use of time."
"Up until you yell into my earpiece," Shadow said, finally reduced to sarcasm, "because the Commander called and I'm not where I need to be."
"The earlier you leave, the less likely that'll be a potential problem."
"Rouge, I can go another day. I have time-"
Shadow shut his mouth mid-sentence. He did. He did have time, to do anything later. All the time, all the days in the world…
And everyone he knew didn't.
He repeated, more slowly, "I have time."
Rouge had stopped, understanding where his mind went.
"Ah. Sorry," she said, more quietly, "I'll stop pushing. Do whatever you feel you need to do."
Shadow nodded, as taciturn and calm on the outside as ever. He left, and headed down the hall to his room.
After a few minutes, he came back.
"Rouge." She looked up. Shadow pointed at the Better Homes and Gardens magazine. "How many of those do you have?"
Rouge blinked, not expecting that, but went with it. He seemed to have a purpose in mind, which was usually good. "The back issues I own are on a magazine rack in my room, on my desk," she said. "I have…I think about twenty. Good luck?"
He nodded, a very serious expression on his face, and left again.
Rouge picked up her magazine and found her place in it. Her ears swiveled towards the sound of her bedroom door opening. She didn't have to watch to know what her apartment-mate was doing.
After a while, her door opened again. She heard his characteristic, purposeful tread on the carpet. If she wasn't mistaken, he was heading downstairs. Down went two ways. The club she ran in the evenings, and a side door directly to the outside. The two sounded different.
She guessed where he'd go, and was proven right when the side door squeaked and his metallic footsteps disappeared. Rouge smiled. Good, he would finally enjoy himself a little.
The bright sun was lower in the sky, the shadows it cast growing longer. Amy pat the last of the blue phlox into the mix of potting soil and the dirt already in her yard.
There! She leaned back and sat down, sweaty but glad. All done! She admired her handywork, the ribbon of blue and purple winding around the gold-peach combo of yarrow and daylilies. She'd stopped to trim the vines, too. Too bad Shadow couldn't be here to see it. And there was still that patch in the middle, with nothing to fill it-
But, Amy stopped herself, those could be taken care of another day. Now she could go in, sit down, maybe eat lunch, and find a friend to hang out with. Eventually she'd find a centerpiece and a day when mister grumpy wasn't working.
She stood up, and her doorbell rang.
Oh! Her tiredness forgotten, Amy hurried up her porch and inside. Who could it be? Through the kitchen, through the little entry hall to the front door. She wasn't expecting anyone-
Almost tripping over herself as she opened the door, she said, "Hi! Who- Oh!"
Shadow had stepped back on her front porch, his arms around a pot of bright orange marigolds. Their blooms formed cheerful pompoms the size of fists, held high by tall leafy stem arms. The tag sticking from the dirt of the pot read "Garland Orange Marigolds - Wind Resistant and Easy to Grow!"
"You said you wanted something colorful," he said, stilted. "Are these suitable?"
"Oh! Oh, gosh, they're…" Amy stared eagerly at the flowers, picturing an orange pop of color in the patch of pastel hues. She squealed.
Shadow looked vaguely puzzled for a moment, and then lowered his eye ridges. "I can take them back," he said flatly. His voice was a little lower. "I have the receipt."
"No, no!" She said quickly. "I love them! They're so pretty and cheerful! I was just picturing them in my garden- They'll look so good with the other flowers, thank you!" Amy stumbled back. "Come in!"
His ears perked up a bit and he followed her inside. His steps on the tile after hers, though his shoes were metal, weren't louder. Shadow's footsteps were like him; quiet, but unusual enough that just their presence drew attention. He didn't need or want to announce himself, but people noticed him regardless.
Amy continued to lead him through her house, a spring in her step. People tended to notice Amy too, but for the simple reason that she's a walking ray of sunshine. A ray of sunshine who sought out gloom and did her best to banish it. In her presence, it was difficult not to feel at least a little happier.
She glanced aside at her kitchen on the way. "Do you want anything to eat while you're here?" She asked. "I have things for all kinds of sandwiches."
"Okay, if you say so!" Amy said, not even slowed. "Here, I'll get the door."
She grabbed the doorknob and hopped back, pulling it wide open, her head poking out behind the door. Shadow nodded at her and crossed into the backyard.
She followed, and skipped aside to the crate on her porch. Amy sifted through it noisily. "Someday I'm going to sort all this stuff-" She glanced up to ask, "Do you want gloves?"
"I have those already."
"Gardening gloves, silly!"
"Ah." She could swear he smiled. "No, thank you."
"Okay." More digging around in the box. "Want a spade? I have more than one. I've seen at least three in here so far, actually."
He nodded. "Once my hands are free."
"Okay!" She pulled one out. "Oh, dang it, where-" Amy hopefully shifted around the things in the box, though it was big enough that she really should be seeing it if it were there. "Where's the darn potting soil-?"
Shadow glanced at her garden. "By the phlox."
"What?" She looked up, hat bouncing, and remembered. Right, she'd run to the door, and hadn't had time to put it away. "Oh, duh!" She whapped herself on the head with her free hand, squishing the side of her hat. "Silly me. Oh well! One less thing to carry."
Shadow nodded again.
And they went to it. The marigolds were set carefully on the ground and they sat by it to dig, both careful not to trample the existing flowers. Amy stabbed at the dirt with enthusiasm, as though she hadn't been working all day. Despite that, she slowed somewhat as they went, and stopped sometimes to fan herself or adjust her wayward hat. Shadow dug next to her diligently, a look of stern concentration on his face. The sun's heat didn't even seem to touch him.
The hole was close to the right depth when Amy paused again, drawing out her trowel and slumping briefly. "Geez, it's so hot out…"
"You're tired," Shadow said. "Sit and rest. I'll finish this."
"It's my garden," she protested, though not loudly. "I can keep digging just fine."
"I'm going to do it." It seemed to take him a moment to find the right words. "Digging is… Fun."
Amy had to stifle a laugh. She didn't think Shadow even knew the word for fun. He was so serious about everything! The first time he had helped in the garden, all she had said was that it was work she needed help doing. And each time, stoically and steadily, he had done it. Same for accepting the plants she had offered him as presents. He was actually enjoying himself?
Well, you know what? Amy forcefully made up her mind. Shadow having fun was a good thing. He should have fun. Goodness knows what he's had to deal with to make him as quiet and closed off as he is.
"I won't argue with that," she said, smiling. Amy settled into her seat on the ground. "Go right ahead."
Shadow nodded, more forcefully than before, and attacked the hole. The swoops of his trowel became a blur. Amy wondered if he had gone slower before so she could keep up with him. In a moment he withdrew, leaving an even, perfectly round hole that was exactly the right size.
"Oh, wow!" She said in awe. "Perfect! Put them in, put them in!"
Shadow looked just slightly smug at the praise before returning to work mode and the marigolds. He picked up their pot like it might break. Carefully, he slid his fingers between the pot and the compacted dirt inside, and wiggled his fingers to loosen it. His arm supported the stems and pom pom flowers. Once that was done to his apparent satisfaction, he drew apart the pot in one hand from the plants' dirt cradled in the other. Finally, the marigolds were embedded in their new resting place, the stems still shaking slightly from the movement of Shadow's hand.
"There," he said, with a touch of relief. "None of them broke."
"You did a great job! They look lovely," Amy said encouragingly. "I might not even have to put more potting soil around it. And I keep telling you, that was okay! I've dropped flowers before too, and mostof that batch of daylilies lived-"
A ringtone sounded.
Amy glanced around a bit foolishly for her phone. Shadow rose from the ground, dusting off his knees, and put his hand up to his ear. "It's Shadow."
"Hi, it's Rouge. The commander called." Rouge's clipped voice was rough with static. "We need to report to headquarters ASAP!"
"I'll be there shortly."
"You'd better!" There was a drawn-out, wistful sigh on the other end. "Just like we said would happen. So much for sitting down today… Get here soon. Rouge out."
He took his hand from his ear, and turned to Amy. "I have to leave."
"Oh-" She stood up. "We finished just in time, then! It was nice to see you for a bit." Shadow stepped away. Amy waved a little, her short yellow sleeve swishing. "Good luck with work!"
He turned his head, almost smiled, and nodded.
In a flash of green light, he vanished.
Amy stood there for a second, watching the last sparks of chaos energy fizzle away. Wonder if he could teach her how to do that? Unless, maybe Chaos Control was something that came with being the Ultimate...? She'd have to remember to ask him later. Gosh, it was so nice that he was able to come by today!
The dynamo went back inside, forgetting any tiredness, bubbling with all the ways she could show everyone the completion of her garden, and what a wonderful eye for color Shadow had, and how pretty the new flowers were, and…