Shadow's phone alarm started blaring and buzzing at the ungodly hour of 4 AM. He got out of his bed, groggy and befuddled, slowly making his way out of his apartment's bedroom down the hall to the bathroom. He washed his face, brushed his teeth, and after placing his toothbrush back in the cup on the sink, he stared at his reflection in the mirror.

"Ugh."

After finishing his morning routine, he sipped his coffee and checked his phone for messages.

"heyyyy shadow meet me at my place at 6 this morning :) there's a new breakfast place on the way that i wanna show u! xoxo"

Rouge.

She was his confidant, his partner, and his most trusted friend. Why the hell couldn't she use capitalization and punctuation in her text messages? It puzzled Shadow but he had mostly accepted it at this point. He accepted all of her little quirks and other personality traits that he couldn't quite understand.

Shadow took another sip of coffee and realized that he had trouble understanding a lot of things that his acquaintances and friends didn't seem to struggle with at all. Things that seemed so natural to them; making friends, forming meaningful relationships and naturally being able to start conversations, having a multitude of hobbies, going out for social gatherings multiple times a week... the list went on. Shadow could, to an extent, understand these things and participate at a small level, but in general these things exhausted him. He felt uneasy all of a sudden. Why was he like this?

"I'll be there soon." he typed into his phone. His thumb hovered over the "send" key for just a few seconds before tapping it, then he pocketed the weird rectangle that he felt was a bit too extravagant for him and finished his coffee. As he took his mug to his sink to wash it out, he chuckled, remembering Rouge's fanatic behavior at the cellular outlet where she dragged him along to buy the damn thing in the first place.

"Shadow, you've gotta have a phone! EVERYBODY has a phone! Even that purple cat guy has one! How else am I going to be able to get ahold of you whenever I want?"

"You know you're welcome at my place anytime... and you see me every day."

"Well, yeah...", she stared at him blankly, "But what about when I'm relaxing at home and just wanna talk with my number one boy?"

"Me?"

"Of course, stupid! Let's find you a cute case."

He smirked, remembering his first choice, a "boring" plain black case that Rouge would not allow him to purchase. She picked out a more colorful one with flowers on it. She found this to be so funny, saying things like, "See! It matches your colorful and vibrant personality!"

She sure was something else.

Shadow thought about her a lot. More than any other person in his life, for sure. He would always feel happy when he was around her. He would always feel at ease, safe. As he drifted off to sleep each night, he would think of her. He was thankful to have her. Over the years working for GUN, he had gotten the chance to get closer to his formal rivals and he would even call them his "friends" now, which was another strange sensation for him. "Friends. I have friends", he whispered to himself as he descended the stairs outside of his apartment.

Rouge was his friend, and he was hers. He was happy to know this. No matter what, he knew he could depend on her. He knew that she would always be by his side.

He began to smile, and quickened his pace to his car.

As he drove to Rouge's flat, he couldn't help but feel excited to see her. He was suddenly feeling very thankful that he had a job, doing what he loved, helping the people of this planet like Maria wanted him to, and that he was able to work with his best friend almost every single day.

He pulled into her driveway, unsurprised to see her sitting on her front step, waving at him and smiling. He nodded at her, smiled and unlocked his car as she approached.

In a split second of panic, Shadow suddenly cared very much about how he looked. He glanced in the rear-view mirror, making sure his quils weren't too messed up, ran his hand through them quickly before Rouge entered his car.

"Bonjour, Shadow! We've got an hour before briefing, let's hit this cute new breakfast place before we get to HQ. I wanna split a cinnamon bun with you, I hear they're to DIE for."

"Sounds good."

Shadow backed out of her driveway and made his way back to the main street.

At the breakfast eatery, Shadow waited patiently at a booth, Rouge sitting mere inches from him, her warmth and perfume made him twitch. Why was he feeling like this all of a sudden? He had eaten with her hundreds, possibly thousands of times before. He had been in close proximity to her many, many times.

Why did she suddenly smell so good? Why did he suddenly want to lay his head on her shoulder?

*clap*

The sound of the tray housing the cinnamon roll hitting the table made Shadow snap back into reality, he somehow found the means to say "Thank you" to the waiter as he walked off.

"Hello, Earth to Shadow?"

"Huh?"

"You okay, pal? You seem kinda spaced this morning. I said it looks like we've only got one fork, I'm not germaphobic but if you want to go get another one I won't be offended."

Shadow blinked, and said "No.. that's alright."

She cracked a smile and cut into the soft and warm breakfast treat with the plastic fork. She brought it close to her lips, and gently blew out cold air onto it, and whispered, "Okay, you gotta try this."

She moved the chunk of sweet, doughy carbohydrates to Shadow's face, and he couldn't help but feel his cheeks getting warm as he slowly opened his mouth. Oh. That tasted really good. Oh, my God.

Shadow swallowed.

"Whoa, Rouge, you weren't kidding. That was fantastic... I don't think I've ever had anything so sweet in my life."

She smiled and giggled.

"You're so funny."

She gently reached her hand towards his face, before Shadow had time to react she ran her finger along the left side of his mouth, wiping away some cream that he had no idea was there. She giggled again.

Shadow blushed, his heart beating faster and faster.

They finished the cinnamon roll together and talked.

As they left the breakfast shoppe, Rouge hummed a song as they approached Shadow's car.

"You seem to be in a good mood despite the fact that we're going to have a boring day at our desks today."

She grinned and continued humming her song.

At HQ, Shadow was pleasantly surprised to find that he was wrong about it being a boring day, turns out that he, Rouge and Omega had an actual op to do. It wasn't anything as big as what they were used to, the fate of the world wasn't at stake again, what they had ahead of them today was a simple "Bank Heist Gone Wrong" hostage situation. Shadow was excited. He enjoyed helping people and saving lives. It was what he did best, and it gave him purpose. They got their gear together and made their way to the location.

Outside the bank, local police briefed the trio on the situation. A red faced, mustachioed police chief wanted to go in guns blazing, hostages be damned. Shadow winced. He didn't like these types of men. Most of the police he had to work with were like this and it left a sour taste in his mouth.

"Sir, please calm down, we're going to take over from here", Rouge calmly told the blustering fool.

"I'm giving you guys an hour. After that, I'm having my men storm the bank. These bastards think they can do whatever they want, it sickens me."

Shadow struggled not to roll his eyes. He could say the exact same thing about these assholes but he wasn't about to get into an argument with them. Cops, man.

"COMMENCING SCAN OF BANK...", Omega suddenly beeped. "HOSTAGE COUNT: 13. PERPETRATOR COUNT: 4. ARMED WITH MOSSBERG 500 PUMP ACTION SHOTGUNS. THREAT LEVEL: BLUE."

Mossbergs? Are these guys Ex-Military?

Shadow looked at Rouge and she shared his puzzled face. Clearly she was wondering the same thing.

"Alright, Shadow, follow me up to the roof and let's scout this bitch out."

"Don't have to ask me twice", Shadow said as he watched her fly straight to the top. He quickly followed behind, jumping off of a parked police car and bouncing from balcony to balcony, building to building until he too was on the roof.

"So this is a three story bank, the bottom floor is where all the action is going on right now, it seems like they've got one guy guarding the second story and nobody on the third, so we should descend from the top and make this quick, quiet and relatively painless. Got it?"

"Aye aye."

She smirked at him. "Aye aye? You a pirate now?"

Shadow laughed. "Shut up, just trying out new phrases."

They made their way into the building quietly, Rouge scouted ahead while Shadow made sure there weren't any explosives or any other threats to deal with. Nothing. This really seemed like just a simple heist.

"Amateurs."

"Shadow! Over here!", she whispered from the stairway leading to the second floor.

He approached quietly and glanced over the edge of the stairs to see a man wearing a ski mask holding a shotgun in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other. He was holding the walkie up to his face and speaking quietly into it. Shadow focused and listened in on what the guy was saying.

"I'm telling you, you've gotta release one hostage or the pigs are gonna come in and shoot everything up! Just one! If they think they can save everybody they'll cut us a deal, otherwise we're boned."

Shadow rolled his eyes. This guy had no idea that it was too late for that and that the "pigs" were already ready to storm the place with no survivors.

He was about to approach the perp from behind when he noticed something in the room. C4 explosives. A lot of them.

"Rouge... you see those?!", he whispered to his partner.

"Yeah... what's their endgame here? Is the robbery a distraction? Are these guys radical terrorists or what?"

Shadow watched the guy put his walkie on his belt as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He began to softly hum a tune to himself as he pulled one out and lit it in his mouth.

"Idiots", he muttered to himself before he took a drag. "What a pain." He made his way over to the C4 and began pushing buttons on the pad wired up to it.

"Shadow..." Rouge began, before Shadow interrupted with a "Don't worry".

Shadow slowly and stealthily made his way into the room and hid behind a desk about 10 feet away from the bomber. Shadow looked back at Rouge and signaled her.

"Come on... now...", Shadow thought to himself. Rouge flapped her wings, sending a gust of wind towards a pile of folders on a desk on the opposite side of the room, causing them to fall over. The perp immediately turned around and approached said desk to investigate while Shadow made his move quickly and quietly.

Shadow planned on cutting the wire on the bomb before the perp activated it, rendering it completely useless without his knowing, effectively ruining any chance of an explosion in this bank today. He quickly did this and made his way back to his hiding spot before the man had a chance to see anything. Rouge had already made her way back upstairs.

"Mm... must've been nothing."

The bomber returned to the bomb and pushed a few more buttons before whistling to himself and muttering, "Gonna be a real shitshow for those police here in a few minutes" and laughing to himself. The idiot had no idea that his main failsafe was now completely useless.

Shadow watched the guy put out his cigarette and make his way out the other exit of the room, towards the downstairs level where the hostages were. Shadow clicked the button on his earpiece and whispered, "Rouge, you copy?"

"Yep. Threat level?"

"I'd say we've deescalated things down from substantial to moderate."

"Cool." Omega's scanned the building and hasn't found any other bombs. Should be the last of the surprises today. Not really sure what these guys' M.O. is, though."

"Meh, doesn't really matter to me. They're putting innocent people in harm's way and that's enough reason for me to stop them."

"Ugh, you're just such a sweetheart, aren't you?"

"Zip it!"

Rouge giggled.

Shadow blushed and stated that he was going to follow the perp downstairs and neutralize him and the others and Rouge gave a "Roger" back. She stated that she'd follow along behind covertly in case things turned messy.

He nudged the cigarette on the ground with his foot and took a picture of it with his watch. "Omega, you there?", he whispered.

"PHOTO RECEIVED. FINGERPRINT SEARCH COMMENCING."

"Thanks, buddy."

"ANYTIME."

Shadow slowly descended the stairwell and found a vantage point to look at the situation. We had our bomber from a few minutes ago sitting in a chair in the middle of the lobby, we had two big fellas patrolling back and forth, shotguns in tow, and we had a fourth guy sitting on the teller counter, talking to the hostages about whatever dumb motivation he and his crew had for robbing the place. Like it mattered at all. All four of them were wearing hockey masks and bulletproof vests.

"SHADOW. COME IN.", a booming robotic voice came into the earpiece. Shadow placed his finger on his ear.

"I HAVE IDENTIFIED PERPETRATOR NUMBER 1 AS IAN WHITAKER."

"Why does that name sound familiar?"

"WE DO NOT HAVE A LOT OF INFORMATION ON THIS INDIVIDUAL, BUT WE KNOW THAT HE WAS, AT ONE POINT, WORKING FOR MY CREATOR AS AN MOLE IN THE MILITARY, PROVIDING HIM WITH INFORMATION IN RETURN FOR HIGHLY ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY."

"This guy was working with the doctor? That doesn't make any sense. That bomb upstairs was ridiculous, totally amateur!"

"IT IS ILLOGICAL TO ME AS WELL. I AM RUNNING ANOTHER, MORE THOROUGH SCAN OF THE BUILDING. I WILL LET YOU KNOW WHAT COMES UP BUT IT WILL TAKE SOME TIME TO RUN ITS COURSE."

"Alright, thanks."

Shadow pressed the button on his earpiece and whispered. "Rouge?"

"What's up?"

"This feels off. You heard Omega, right?"

"Yeah. I don't like this. It feels like a diversion."

"What should I do?"

"Stay low. Don't alert the perps. Hostages are still a priority right now. Find a way to get the hostages out quickly."

"Consider it done."

Shadow had a wide array of special abilities at his disposal, but most of them would draw quite a bit of attention and he didn't need that right now. He began to formulate a plan in his mind. He didn't have any chaos emeralds in his possession right now, Knuckles, an old rival turned friend of his, was keeping them safe hidden somewhere. He had a knack for guarding magic jewels. He wouldn't be able to activate any form of chaos control, but he still had options.

He watched the two guards as they made a loop through their rounds. The lobby of the bank wasn't huge, but there was one blind spot where the guy on the counter, who he assumed was the leader, wasn't able to see from his position. He'd take advantage of that when the opportunity arose.

He slowly made his way to an oversized indoor plant and hid behind it, watching the situation closely. Mr. Whitaker, our bomber, loudly expressed that he was going to take a leak and made his way out of the lobby towards the restrooms. This was his chance. He quickly took out perps 2 and 3 when they approached the plant and he dragged their unconscious bodies out of sight. Perp 4 was still going on about the corrupt bank system or whatever to the hostages at the counter. Shadow rolled his eyes.

"SHADOW. DO YOU READ ME?"

"Loud and clear. What's up?"

"MORE ILLOGICAL INTEL. NO OTHER THREATS ARE ACTIVE IN THE BUILDING."

"That's good, right?"

"YES. BUT THAT IS NOT ALL. IAN WHITAKER HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 3 YEARS. WHOEVER THIS MAN IS, HE IS AN IMPOSTER."

"What?"

Shadow heard the man on the counter laughing loudly to himself, before he jumped off the counter and picked up his shotgun.

"Well. I suppose I'll be seeing you all soon. Thank you for listening to an old man's stories." Shadow then watched the man approach the restrooms and then enter them. He quickly got on his feet and made his way over to the other side of the lobby towards the restrooms himself. He put his finger to his lips as he looked over the hostages and a couple of them nodded.

He pulled out his pistol and placed his ear against the door of the men's room. He didn't hear anything.

He very slowly opened the door and looked inside.

Nothing.

No one was there.

There were no windows to escape from, the stalls were all open and empty. Nothing. Absolutely no trace that anyone had been in these bathrooms at all.

"Omega? Where the hell did they go?"

"ERROR. LOCATION OF PERPETRATORS LOST."

"What the hell?!"

"Shadow!"

Shadow turned around. It was Rouge.

"Rouge, they're gone!"

"I know. I don't know what happened but we have a chance to get the hostages out and get two of these guys into custody now. Let's just focus on the mission."

"You're right. Alright. Let's finish the mission."

RAW Paste Data

Shadow's phone alarm started blaring and buzzing at the ungodly hour of 4 AM. He got out of his bed, groggy and befuddled, slowly making his way out of his apartment's bedroom down the hall to the bathroom. He washed his face, brushed his teeth, and after placing his toothbrush back in the cup on the sink, he stared at his reflection in the mirror.

"Ugh."

After finishing his morning routine, he sipped his coffee and checked his phone for messages.

"heyyyy shadow meet me at my place at 6 this morning :) there's a new breakfast place on the way that i wanna show u! xoxo"

Rouge.

She was his confidant, his partner, and his most trusted friend. Why the hell couldn't she use capitalization and punctuation in her text messages? It puzzled Shadow but he had mostly accepted it at this point. He accepted all of her little quirks and other personality traits that he couldn't quite understand.

Shadow took another sip of coffee and realized that he had trouble understanding a lot of things that his acquaintances and friends didn't seem to struggle with at all. Things that seemed so natural to them; making friends, forming meaningful relationships and naturally being able to start conversations, having a multitude of hobbies, going out for social gatherings multiple times a week... the list went on. Shadow could, to an extent, understand these things and participate at a small level, but in general these things exhausted him. He felt uneasy all of a sudden. Why was he like this?

"I'll be there soon." he typed into his phone. His thumb hovered over the "send" key for just a few seconds before tapping it, then he pocketed the weird rectangle that he felt was a bit too extravagant for him and finished his coffee. As he took his mug to his sink to wash it out, he chuckled, remembering Rouge's fanatic behavior at the cellular outlet where she dragged him along to buy the damn thing in the first place.

"Shadow, you've gotta have a phone! EVERYBODY has a phone! Even that purple cat guy has one! How else am I going to be able to get ahold of you whenever I want?"

"You know you're welcome at my place anytime... and you see me every day."

"Well, yeah...", she stared at him blankly, "But what about when I'm relaxing at home and just wanna talk with my number one boy?"

"Me?"

"Of course, stupid! Let's find you a cute case."

He smirked, remembering his first choice, a "boring" plain black case that Rouge would not allow him to purchase. She picked out a more colorful one with flowers on it. She found this to be so funny, saying things like, "See! It matches your colorful and vibrant personality!"

She sure was something else.

Shadow thought about her a lot. More than any other person in his life, for sure. He would always feel happy when he was around her. He would always feel at ease, safe. As he drifted off to sleep each night, he would think of her. He was thankful to have her. Over the years working for GUN, he had gotten the chance to get closer to his formal rivals and he would even call them his "friends" now, which was another strange sensation for him. "Friends. I have friends", he whispered to himself as he descended the stairs outside of his apartment.

Rouge was his friend, and he was hers. He was happy to know this. No matter what, he knew he could depend on her. He knew that she would always be by his side.

He began to smile, and quickened his pace to his car.

As he drove to Rouge's flat, he couldn't help but feel excited to see her. He was suddenly feeling very thankful that he had a job, doing what he loved, helping the people of this planet like Maria wanted him to, and that he was able to work with his best friend almost every single day.

He pulled into her driveway, unsurprised to see her sitting on her front step, waving at him and smiling. He nodded at her, smiled and unlocked his car as she approached.

In a split second of panic, Shadow suddenly cared very much about how he looked. He glanced in the rear-view mirror, making sure his quils weren't too messed up, ran his hand through them quickly before Rouge entered his car.

"Bonjour, Shadow! We've got an hour before briefing, let's hit this cute new breakfast place before we get to HQ. I wanna split a cinnamon bun with you, I hear they're to DIE for."

"Sounds good."

Shadow backed out of her driveway and made his way back to the main street.

At the breakfast eatery, Shadow waited patiently at a booth, Rouge sitting mere inches from him, her warmth and perfume made him twitch. Why was he feeling like this all of a sudden? He had eaten with her hundreds, possibly thousands of times before. He had been in close proximity to her many, many times.

Why did she suddenly smell so good? Why did he suddenly want to lay his head on her shoulder?

*clap*

The sound of the tray housing the cinnamon roll hitting the table made Shadow snap back into reality, he somehow found the means to say "Thank you" to the waiter as he walked off.

"Hello, Earth to Shadow?"

"Huh?"

"You okay, pal? You seem kinda spaced this morning. I said it looks like we've only got one fork, I'm not germaphobic but if you want to go get another one I won't be offended."

Shadow blinked, and said "No.. that's alright."

She cracked a smile and cut into the soft and warm breakfast treat with the plastic fork. She brought it close to her lips, and gently blew out cold air onto it, and whispered, "Okay, you gotta try this."

She moved the chunk of sweet, doughy carbohydrates to Shadow's face, and he couldn't help but feel his cheeks getting warm as he slowly opened his mouth. Oh. That tasted really good. Oh, my God.

Shadow swallowed.

"Whoa, Rouge, you weren't kidding. That was fantastic... I don't think I've ever had anything so sweet in my life."

She smiled and giggled.

"You're so funny."

She gently reached her hand towards his face, before Shadow had time to react she ran her finger along the left side of his mouth, wiping away some cream that he had no idea was there. She giggled again.

Shadow blushed, his heart beating faster and faster.

They finished the cinnamon roll together and talked.

As they left the breakfast shoppe, Rouge hummed a song as they approached Shadow's car.

"You seem to be in a good mood despite the fact that we're going to have a boring day at our desks today."

She grinned and continued humming her song.

At HQ, Shadow was pleasantly surprised to find that he was wrong about it being a boring day, turns out that he, Rouge and Omega had an actual op to do. It wasn't anything as big as what they were used to, the fate of the world wasn't at stake again, what they had ahead of them today was a simple "Bank Heist Gone Wrong" hostage situation. Shadow was excited. He enjoyed helping people and saving lives. It was what he did best, and it gave him purpose. They got their gear together and made their way to the location.

Outside the bank, local police briefed the trio on the situation. A red faced, mustachioed police chief wanted to go in guns blazing, hostages be damned. Shadow winced. He didn't like these types of men. Most of the police he had to work with were like this and it left a sour taste in his mouth.

"Sir, please calm down, we're going to take over from here", Rouge calmly told the blustering fool.

"I'm giving you guys an hour. After that, I'm having my men storm the bank. These bastards think they can do whatever they want, it sickens me."

Shadow struggled not to roll his eyes. He could say the exact same thing about these assholes but he wasn't about to get into an argument with them. Cops, man.

"COMMENCING SCAN OF BANK...", Omega suddenly beeped. "HOSTAGE COUNT: 13. PERPETRATOR COUNT: 4. ARMED WITH MOSSBERG 500 PUMP ACTION SHOTGUNS. THREAT LEVEL: BLUE."

Mossbergs? Are these guys Ex-Military?

Shadow looked at Rouge and she shared his puzzled face. Clearly she was wondering the same thing.

"Alright, Shadow, follow me up to the roof and let's scout this bitch out."

"Don't have to ask me twice", Shadow said as he watched her fly straight to the top. He quickly followed behind, jumping off of a parked police car and bouncing from balcony to balcony, building to building until he too was on the roof.

"So this is a three story bank, the bottom floor is where all the action is going on right now, it seems like they've got one guy guarding the second story and nobody on the third, so we should descend from the top and make this quick, quiet and relatively painless. Got it?"

"Aye aye."

She smirked at him. "Aye aye? You a pirate now?"

Shadow laughed. "Shut up, just trying out new phrases."

They made their way into the building quietly, Rouge scouted ahead while Shadow made sure there weren't any explosives or any other threats to deal with. Nothing. This really seemed like just a simple heist.

"Amateurs."

"Shadow! Over here!", she whispered from the stairway leading to the second floor.

He approached quietly and glanced over the edge of the stairs to see a man wearing a ski mask holding a shotgun in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other. He was holding the walkie up to his face and speaking quietly into it. Shadow focused and listened in on what the guy was saying.

"I'm telling you, you've gotta release one hostage or the pigs are gonna come in and shoot everything up! Just one! If they think they can save everybody they'll cut us a deal, otherwise we're boned."

Shadow rolled his eyes. This guy had no idea that it was too late for that and that the "pigs" were already ready to storm the place with no survivors.

He was about to approach the perp from behind when he noticed something in the room. C4 explosives. A lot of them.

"Rouge... you see those?!", he whispered to his partner.

"Yeah... what's their endgame here? Is the robbery a distraction? Are these guys radical terrorists or what?"

Shadow watched the guy put his walkie on his belt as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He began to softly hum a tune to himself as he pulled one out and lit it in his mouth.

"Idiots", he muttered to himself before he took a drag. "What a pain." He made his way over to the C4 and began pushing buttons on the pad wired up to it.

"Shadow..." Rouge began, before Shadow interrupted with a "Don't worry".

Shadow slowly and stealthily made his way into the room and hid behind a desk about 10 feet away from the bomber. Shadow looked back at Rouge and signaled her.

"Come on... now...", Shadow thought to himself. Rouge flapped her wings, sending a gust of wind towards a pile of folders on a desk on the opposite side of the room, causing them to fall over. The perp immediately turned around and approached said desk to investigate while Shadow made his move quickly and quietly.

Shadow planned on cutting the wire on the bomb before the perp activated it, rendering it completely useless without his knowing, effectively ruining any chance of an explosion in this bank today. He quickly did this and made his way back to his hiding spot before the man had a chance to see anything. Rouge had already made her way back upstairs.

"Mm... must've been nothing."

The bomber returned to the bomb and pushed a few more buttons before whistling to himself and muttering, "Gonna be a real shitshow for those police here in a few minutes" and laughing to himself. The idiot had no idea that his main failsafe was now completely useless.

Shadow watched the guy put out his cigarette and make his way out the other exit of the room, towards the downstairs level where the hostages were. Shadow clicked the button on his earpiece and whispered, "Rouge, you copy?"

"Yep. Threat level?"

"I'd say we've deescalated things down from substantial to moderate."

"Cool." Omega's scanned the building and hasn't found any other bombs. Should be the last of the surprises today. Not really sure what these guys' M.O. is, though."

"Meh, doesn't really matter to me. They're putting innocent people in harm's way and that's enough reason for me to stop them."

"Ugh, you're just such a sweetheart, aren't you?"

"Zip it!"

Rouge giggled.

Shadow blushed and stated that he was going to follow the perp downstairs and neutralize him and the others and Rouge gave a "Roger" back. She stated that she'd follow along behind covertly in case things turned messy.

He nudged the cigarette on the ground with his foot and took a picture of it with his watch. "Omega, you there?", he whispered.

"PHOTO RECEIVED. FINGERPRINT SEARCH COMMENCING."

"Thanks, buddy."

"ANYTIME."

Shadow slowly descended the stairwell and found a vantage point to look at the situation. We had our bomber from a few minutes ago sitting in a chair in the middle of the lobby, we had two big fellas patrolling back and forth, shotguns in tow, and we had a fourth guy sitting on the teller counter, talking to the hostages about whatever dumb motivation he and his crew had for robbing the place. Like it mattered at all. All four of them were wearing hockey masks and bulletproof vests.

"SHADOW. COME IN.", a booming robotic voice came into the earpiece. Shadow placed his finger on his ear.

"I HAVE IDENTIFIED PERPETRATOR NUMBER 1 AS IAN WHITAKER."

"Why does that name sound familiar?"

"WE DO NOT HAVE A LOT OF INFORMATION ON THIS INDIVIDUAL, BUT WE KNOW THAT HE WAS, AT ONE POINT, WORKING FOR MY CREATOR AS AN MOLE IN THE MILITARY, PROVIDING HIM WITH INFORMATION IN RETURN FOR HIGHLY ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY."

"This guy was working with the doctor? That doesn't make any sense. That bomb upstairs was ridiculous, totally amateur!"

"IT IS ILLOGICAL TO ME AS WELL. I AM RUNNING ANOTHER, MORE THOROUGH SCAN OF THE BUILDING. I WILL LET YOU KNOW WHAT COMES UP BUT IT WILL TAKE SOME TIME TO RUN ITS COURSE."

"Alright, thanks."

Shadow pressed the button on his earpiece and whispered. "Rouge?"

"What's up?"

"This feels off. You heard Omega, right?"

"Yeah. I don't like this. It feels like a diversion."

"What should I do?"

"Stay low. Don't alert the perps. Hostages are still a priority right now. Find a way to get the hostages out quickly."

"Consider it done."

Shadow had a wide array of special abilities at his disposal, but most of them would draw quite a bit of attention and he didn't need that right now. He began to formulate a plan in his mind. He didn't have any chaos emeralds in his possession right now, Knuckles, an old rival turned friend of his, was keeping them safe hidden somewhere. He had a knack for guarding magic jewels. He wouldn't be able to activate any form of chaos control, but he still had options.

He watched the two guards as they made a loop through their rounds. The lobby of the bank wasn't huge, but there was one blind spot where the guy on the counter, who he assumed was the leader, wasn't able to see from his position. He'd take advantage of that when the opportunity arose.

He slowly made his way to an oversized indoor plant and hid behind it, watching the situation closely. Mr. Whitaker, our bomber, loudly expressed that he was going to take a leak and made his way out of the lobby towards the restrooms. This was his chance. He quickly took out perps 2 and 3 when they approached the plant and he dragged their unconscious bodies out of sight. Perp 4 was still going on about the corrupt bank system or whatever to the hostages at the counter. Shadow rolled his eyes.

"SHADOW. DO YOU READ ME?"

"Loud and clear. What's up?"

"MORE ILLOGICAL INTEL. NO OTHER THREATS ARE ACTIVE IN THE BUILDING."

"That's good, right?"

"YES. BUT THAT IS NOT ALL. IAN WHITAKER HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 3 YEARS. WHOEVER THIS MAN IS, HE IS AN IMPOSTER."

"What?"

Shadow heard the man on the counter laughing loudly to himself, before he jumped off the counter and picked up his shotgun.

"Well. I suppose I'll be seeing you all soon. Thank you for listening to an old man's stories." Shadow then watched the man approach the restrooms and then enter them. He quickly got on his feet and made his way over to the other side of the lobby towards the restrooms himself. He put his finger to his lips as he looked over the hostages and a couple of them nodded.

He pulled out his pistol and placed his ear against the door of the men's room. He didn't hear anything.

He very slowly opened the door and looked inside.

Nothing.

No one was there.

There were no windows to escape from, the stalls were all open and empty. Nothing. Absolutely no trace that anyone had been in these bathrooms at all.

"Omega? Where the hell did they go?"

"ERROR. LOCATION OF PERPETRATORS LOST."

"What the hell?!"

"Shadow!"

Shadow turned around. It was Rouge.

"Rouge, they're gone!"

"I know. I don't know what happened but we have a chance to get the hostages out and get two of these guys into custody now. Let's just focus on the mission."

"You're right. Alright. Let's finish the mission."