A Pair of Second Chances.
Disclaimer and Author Notes: Okay, time to make that age-old confession – I own nothing to do with the Sonic universe save some very old Mega Drive games; ain't that a shame!
Right, well if you've just joined the train here you might need to go back a few stops to get the whole picture. This story is the eighth one in a series I'm going to hopefully complete this side of the new millennium so you might not get the full story unless you start at the start. In reading order the series goes: Angel of Darkness and Ice – The Best Medicine – A Bloodstone Rose – Iron Skin, Golden Heart – Lose Your Illusions – Psyche Out – Friends and Lovers and now this one, A Pair of Second Chances. I admit the first couple in the series, especially AODAI, aren't as clearly written as the later ones but I was finding my feet back then – it's a lot to read (and review – hint, hint :-)) but I reckon it's worth it.
This story's predominantly a Shadow fic; I have a confession to make therefore. Apart from I think three episodes of Sonic X, I've never seen, played or read anything official to do with the black hedgehog, so I kinda worked from scratch. I think he's a lot different to the official ultimate life-form; you'll have to read the series to understand why. Please let me know if you like my take on his personality! For now though:
Drum roll please – the next act in this show takes centre stage!
Chapter 1 – My Own Two Feet.
It was a fairly average Saturday night in a single apartment in Station Square, the pleasant evening warmth lingering even as the sunlight finally started to wane, when a pair of declarations added a fresh gust of wind to four lives that had already, both individually and together, been through enough change and discord to fill a hundred lifetimes. And of course, as is the way with monumental, life-changing decisions such as these, they started out as a just a normal day.
Amy let herself in, shaking her head as she realised once again her message about security had failed to percolate Sonic's granite thick skull; both he and the hedgehog he shared a flat with were notorious for leaving their front door unlocked. It'll take a burglary to get them to change; the pink hedgehog sighed as she stretched out, turning to slip her light coat onto a hook near the door; though, I suppose when you move at just below the speed of sound, leaving your door open while you nip out to the shops really isn't as much a robber's window of opportunity, more of a pinhole. She smiled at her own thought, then froze as something jabbed her in the small of her back, something hard that stayed there as a voice, official and harsh sounding, demanded,
"Freeze", after a second of assuring compliance, it continued, "hands on the wall, feet apart and keep still. You have a right to remain silent"; as she felt gentle hands patting her shoulders, sides and each of her legs, she fought to keep from laughing and play her unseen captor at his own game,
"I choose to waive that right. Help! Help!"
"Around here Ms Rose", she heard the voice get slightly louder, now more of a purr than a demand as it finished, "no-one can here you scream. Turn around". The pink hedgehog sighed, shook her head and then finally complied; as she felt arms slip around her, she reciprocated, hugging Sonic and planting a light kiss on his lips before raising her eyebrows,
"Any reason for that little frisk Sonic? What next, a blood test?"
"Ames", his green eyes hardened slightly as, to him, evil, foul memories bubbled up from the murk of his mind, "after the last time you brought a movie and subjected us all to the horror that is Bridget Jones, I have every right to safeguard the sanity of all male visitors of this building".
"Still not a fan of a chick flick huh?"
"Not now, not ever, urgh", he gave a grimace of deep disgust, shuddering as he forced those rancid imps back into his memory banks, locking them away hopefully for good this time before he realised she'd asked a question, "sorry, come again?"
"I said anyone else here yet?"
"Nah; Shads had gone for Tails, but apparently he's just ending a flying lesson and Cream wanted to come; Vanilla said yes over the phone and he can't carry them both, so all three are driving in the Tornado".
"When was this?"
"About twenty-five minutes ago". Amy bit her lip as she tried to do some mental maths; thankfully those shifts at the Quick Stop Shop helped her out in this respect and told her something wasn't right here,
"Hang on; Tails should have been here by now; the traffic's virtually non-existent out there". Sonic suddenly froze from where he'd been trying to turn around and cringed; before she could ask what the problem was, he looked at her again with a drawn but still humorous expression,
"Tails isn't the one driving".
"What, but…?" She tailed off, hands flying to her cheeks as she felt them go numb through blood loss, imagination already painting pictures of death on the highway as she tried to disbelieve, "no, he wouldn't, she's too young".
"Not really", Sonic shook his head, chuckling a little to try and help Amy see the funny side, "she wants to be a pilot, so why can't she do a bit of chauffeuring at the same time? Think about it; she can land you at the airport and then drive you to your hotel; you never have to step out the, er, the Tornado". Amy's head sank into her hands, shoulders heaving as she imagined Cream at the wheel; at least if she causes anything she should get away with it – 'sorry officer I can't help you with the description , all I saw over the dashboard were a pair of ears'.
Sniggering at the thought, the pink hedgehog stepped into the kitchen, accepting her boyfriend's offer of a cup of tea as they waited together fatalistically for the other three to arrive. And when they do; Amy squirmed in pleasure at the eventuality, though thankfully Sonic never saw the movement as she pictured the scene; I'll be able to tell them all the good news.
The door opening brought the heads of both hedgehogs up; there were a few seconds of listening to the entry noises and excited chatter before, having figured out from the sounds of tramping feet that there were three Mobians now in the hall, Sonic fought down a grin and called,
"You all made it then?"
"More or less", Shadow answered with a distinct quaver in his voice, "I'm here, but I think I left my nerves scattered all over Station Square".
"Hey", Cream was indignant; Sonic doubled over onto the table as he heard a muffled slap, "I did okay for my first time". The black hedgehog's answer was a second later,
"Yeah, for someone who can't do their ABC's – it's accelerator, break, clutch, not the other way around".
"It only took her three attempts to get that right", Amy raised an eyebrow at her crush as his brother leapt in to defend her sister, "besides, bents can be levelled, cracks welded and I think the paint scratches give the car character". The eyebrow lowered again as Shadow joined in the joke,
"Yeah, characters spelling 'Cream was here'".
"You two are so rude", with a humph and arms crossed even if her face was wobbling as it tried to clamp down on a smile, a smaller rabbit appeared in the door to the kitchen, rolling her eyes as the commentary continued unabated behind her.
"Hey not-so-short stuff", Cream pursed her lips, cocking her head and putting a hand on her hip at Sonic's greeting; everyone was commentating about the growth spurt she seemed to be going through, but it rankled that she was still the smallest out the lot of her friends, "take a seat and tell Uncle Sonic about your first driving lesson". Her cinnamon eyes widened and she shuddered, looking at her older sister pleadingly,
"Rosie, please, please tell me there's no way I can be biologically related to that Artic pineapple over there".
"Okay, there is no way", the pink hedgehog cast a forlorn glance as Sonic looked away sniffily, "he's way too old to be your uncle; maybe your great-granddad".
"Forget that", Cream kept a careful eye on the way Sonic's strained grimace seemed to be stretching even thinner as she ladled the gentle chiding on with a bucket, "he'd be my sixth-father if he's a day; Shadow'd be my seventh". She ducked as the aforementioned hedgehog took a swipe at her ears; she ducked into a seat close to Amy as a disgruntled Shadow sat down next to Sonic, Tails taking a diplomatic seat between the warring boys and girls.
"I mimic Spectre in appearance but nothing like age", Shadow stated just as Sonic had left to see about refreshments; casting his eye into the kitchen to check, he lowered his voice and finished, "besides, you really reckon I'd have something like that as my son?"
There were hastily stifled laughs as the blue hedgehog re-emerged into the lounge area, apparently none the wiser for the joke at his expense as he set down the normal plates of crisps, a cup of coffee for Shadow and of course, the deck of cards that the evening had brought them together to play with.
"Right then", Shadow had his eye on the cards as he reached for his drink; by unwritten law he was always the first dealer, "get the chips ready and we'll be up and running". Everyone nodded agreement and reached for their own choice of condiments; however, as Shadow suddenly lowered his cup, face twisted into a grimace of extreme disgust, they paused. Sucking on his tongue vigorously, the black hedgehog glared across the small table,
"You put gravy granules in my coffee again didn't you?"
"Aww", Sonic made a show of reaching over and rubbing Shadow's shoulder, "you know I love you really daddy".
As howls of laughter echoed around the hall, Shadow spared enough time for a scowl at the sniggering Sonic before reaching for the cards; as no-one looked closely at him, wrapped up as they were in their own mirth, there was no-one to see the pang of regret flash across the former ultimate life-form's crimson eyes.
The air was still, no noise save that of the cards as they were flickered over the table surface; Tails was a fairly adept dealer due to the necessity for hand-eye co-ordination demanded in his mechanic trade. With solemn precision, each Mobian picked up and examined their hand of five at the same time as try and keep an eye on the reactions of the others – in a game such as this, a single eye blink, a lip twitch, could mean so much for your chances of, if not winning, at least avoiding a dolorous defeat. Tails could tell Cream had a bad hand, she was fairly new to the game and as such easy to read – normally he'd have let this slide, but the game was approaching a critical stage and everyone seemed to know it, the next few hands would be crucial and he'd need every advantage to pull off a win. Trying to believably bluff a worse hand then his three sixes would have had you believe, the fox flicked his eye to Shadow,
"Two please"; like trying to read Latin with your eyes shut; he had to disguise his disappointment carefully; Shadow was impossible to gauge with any level of accuracy but he didn't need to know that. Sliding over the two cards the black hedgehog had asked for, Tails accepted the two he'd been passed and shuffled again, turning to the next player,
"Just the one TT"; hmm, not a hundred percent but I reckon she's bluffing; Tails slid over the single she'd requested and his practised hands reassorted the depleted pack again; he was just about to query Cream when the pink hedgehog spoke again.
"They accepted me, you know?"
All the sound died away save for a sudden scuttling noise; Tails' suddenly numb fingers failing to catch the deck he'd been shuffling, letting the cards scatter carelessly over the table, meaningless now as Amy, suddenly aware of the groundswell of amazement and disbelief being sent her way by four pairs of awestruck eyes, carried on,
"I got the letter this morning; the university, they said yes", her smile bloomed exultantly as she finally let go of all the jubilation she'd been carefully storing since slitting open the top of the carefully pressed envelope in a wild declaration, "this September, I'm going to be a college girl!"
"YE-ES!" A blue blur swept around from his seat, hands of cards left to drop heedlessly to the floor as Sonic threw his arms around Amy, hefting her out of her seat as though she were weightless and squeezing tight, "you beauty – I knew it, knew they couldn't say no", he choked off for a second, planting his lips to Amy's in joy and celebration as the message finally sank home and chairs were overturned in haste to congratulate the now undergraduate hedgehog, "said it would be worth it, all those forms; a few years down the line and we'll be addressing you as Dr Rose; way to go Ames".
"He said it Rosie", Cream embraced her older sister from behind, ruffling her head quill playfully and gently flicking her pierced ear, "you're gonna be a star there; just study hard and you can do it, you can do anything".
"I know; I can do it, I'm going to do it", Amy declared fiercely as she rubbed her hands through Sonic's back, happy that all those mind-numbing hours of ploughing through paperwork had finally paid off, "the loan's already arranged, all I've got to do now is get some student digs at the uni and, just", Sonic looked up as her voice tailed off; trying to follow her gaze over her shoulder; what he saw stopped him in equal parts confusion and concern; what's eating him?
Still seated, Shadow alone among his friends wasn't celebrating; if anything, he looked like he was being torn in two; his hands were twisting together on the table like dancing adders, his eyes were closed and he was gnawing his bottom lips. Once or twice it looked like he was taking a deep breath, on the verge of admitting something, before expelling it in a long sigh, heavy with effort of containing a great truth.
"Shadow?" Amy was the one who asked, saw him jerk his eyes open and look around guiltily, as though he should have been celebrating rather than let his own issues bother him, "something wrong? Another flashback – does this bring anything back?" Despite the struggle that was raging inside him, the black hedgehog could smile at this; Amy, you are going to be a fantastic counsellor – you've got other people at heart all the time.
"No Amy, nothing's wrong, but", he stood up, all eyes on him as it became obvious to all that something big was pushing its way to the surface through the black hedgehog's normally cool demeanour, "well, first of all, well done to you; you're going to uni, fantastic achievement, but, well, it seems like a day for, ah, news so", he gave a nervous laugh and a weak smile as his friends swapped glances trying to figure out what he was trying to say; here goes – fingers crossed and hops like hell; "I've, had an idea for a while now, er; I, I want to move out".
If Amy's declaration had applied a touch-paper to the fireworks of outright carousal, Shadow's threw a bucket of cold water over the same firework; even as he could see the questions, the unconscious hurt, in the eyes of his friends, he raised his hands and made the first point clear,
"No-one take this as anything to do with them; you guys have done so much for me, I would be the last Mobian on the planet to say I'm running out of here".
"Then why Shadow?" For once, Sonic's voice had lost its cheerful tone; this was a serious, deep question that the black hedgehog had no choice but to try and answer convincingly.
"It", he took a breath, trying to recall the answer he'd come up with what felt like a lifetime ago, "it's just time now; I can't keep looking backwards, trying to find my memories, for all I know I could have lost them forever, I mean I hope I haven't, but I can't keep going on hoping to get back something that might be lost", he paused, trying to remember the next part at the same time as avoid the eyes of his friends; Shadow knew that, if he looked up now, he might see pain and tears and he couldn't handle that, not right now – he needed to get this off his chest first, "so I've got to move on; I've got to see if I can make it out there. In the world, on my own two feet. I'm going to try and make it on my own".
Well, that's that said; he still didn't look up, mind full of grief and accusations of desertion that he didn't really want to handle, didn't know how to handle; but how's it going down? He couldn't help it; his head shot up, just for an instant; the picture captivated him – of all the Mobians there it was Sonic who was looking the most decimated, but even through the film of tears over the blue hedgehog's eyes Shadow thought he could see understanding. A brief flicker of hope lit up his heart as Tails swallowed and his suddenly high voice pierced the silence,
"I see; where were you planning on going?"
"Ah, I was thinking, um, Angel Island – you know, Echidnopolis", the black hedgehog answered stuttering, trying to put as positive a spin on things as he could at the same time as act casual, "I don't know much about the echidnas, but worst come to worst I know a few people up there, least of all Knuckles and Rouge and never mind the Chaotix".
"And we can always fly up there in no more than three-quarters of an hour", Cream chipped in, pointing at herself and Tails at the same time a wiping her eyes dry, ambivalent joy and sudden sadness combining to almost more than she could handle, "and you can visit from there".
"You said it floppy, I can, no, I will visit".
"You've been planning this for a while haven't you?" It wasn't accusing, merely stating a fact, but it convinced Shadow more than ever that Amy really had heeded a calling when she'd applied for her counselling degree. Looking up, he gave a smile,
"Well, I asked Vector to start scouting for a place up there, you know, just trawling through estate agents and stuff", a flash of inspiration caught him and he seized it, pointing at the rose hedgehog with a sudden excitement in his voice, "but anyway, forget that, this could be great for you, and you", his finger shifted to Sonic as he outlined his idea, "Amy, you're going to be a poor undergraduate soon, so listen; you can take my place on the contract for this place, rather than rent a single room on campus; that'll halve your rent bill and Sonic will shuttle you to and from uni". Sonic raised an eyebrow and gave Amy a sidelong look at this point,
"Given the right sort of encouragement of course"; Amy cuffed the blue hedgehog even as her cheeks went red and a few sniggers perforated the silence; following this, she walked around the table and softly embraced the taller Shadow, looking up and smiling,
"If you think you're ready, you should go for it; just remember you've got friends here Shadow. If you need us, we're a call away".
"I won't forget", he whispered back, fighting to keep his eyes clear and his voice strong, "I'll never forget. Not about you".
It was a month, almost to the day, when the time finally came; just as Amy had ploughed her way through forms galore to net herself a place at Station Square's prestigious education complex, Shadow had run up an astronomical phone bill and shuffled around his money in so many different ways it was a virtual joke but the end result could not be disputed. Now, as he stood in Mystic Ruins with his whole life in a selections of bags and suitcases, came the final task and one he hoped never to do again; he had to say goodbye.
"This is it then Shads"; I used to hate that name; the memories bit hard as it seemed everything about his maddening but beloved flatmate welled up at once to try and swamp him in a tide of guilt, "your new life's just a plane trip away".
"Nah", he had to correct Sonic that one last time, turning around and shaking his head, "not a new life, the next stage; I'm not going forever".
"Just as well, I need someone to race with occasionally", the blue hedgehog joked even if his face fell; much as each hated to admit it, there was no denying the fact that their chaotic lives had brought them close together and Shadow jetting off like this was hurting them both equally. But he's right, he wants to go – can't stop just 'cause I like having the guy around; trying to paper over his hurt, Sonic extended his hand, "give everyone up there my regards, and have a, a…" he couldn't think of the words to say, so said nothing, merely accepting as Shadow clasped his hand and shook slowly, solemnly before pulling away, reluctantly picking up the last few pieces of his luggage and slowly walking up the ramp of the Tornado. Every step was dogged by Sonic's eyes; the blue hedgehog had to grit his teeth and clench both fists to avoid running after him, begging Shadow to stay, for that was both selfish and immature. He returned his younger brother's wave from the cockpit and watched on with a heavy heart as the Tornado's engines powered up and ignited, the plane hurting up the runway, losing contact with the ground and taking its cargo up to the clouds.
Only when the Tornado was a speck in the distance did he let it happen; Sonic made no move to wipe the tears that fell from his eyes away as his head dropped; unbidden, words spilled from his lips, words he had spoken only once before,
"Sayonara, Shadow the Hedgehog".
Even as he heard them, a smile crept back onto his face and he fought to keep a chuckled held in; at least this time the goodbye was a lot less final than the last, when Shadow had begun his descent through the outer atmosphere. Looking up but failing to see anything other than the clear blue sky, Sonic turned and began to run back to Station Square, feeling only relief that Shadow was away safely, but also a strange empty ache that he hadn't quite expected to feel.
A/N: And what trials await our favourite ultimate life-form on Angel Island? They start next chapter!