Anonymous Review Replies!

XxShadowxX: Yay! Mega-Review, thanks! :D (And yeah, no worries, I had to laugh at the idea of Shadow with a patch of back fur missing, too...XD) And then I chuckled at your Taranea-week quip. :P But yes, as you can see, it IS actually the next week after posting. ;) So happy you liked the last chapter, hope you have a blast with the wrap-up, too!

T-Man: Well, it's Sonic's birthday, so I'm posting a fanfic chappie in his fandom. Plus, it's Shadow's birthday, too, double-win! :D

Face-Palm: It's...I think, the proper term for this fanfic is 'bildungsroman', i.e., a coming-of-age story. Thus, I categorized it as both Humour as well as Drama, since it has plenty of both. :p And, as the fangirling in the reviews shows, it seems to have been a quite decent mix! :)

Dragonlover35: You sure live up to your screen name, huh? :p Glad you liked, thanks for the comment!

rave: Aw, thanks! As long as there's comments, there's inspiration :3 Happy to hear you liked it, hope you enjoy the wrap-up with Sonic, too!

CerberAsta: :D :D :D YES! (Mind you, I had expected more readers to realize this, but, as of yet, it doesn't seem like it. XD But yeah. I spent 50+ chapters to set up the title, I am...not very efficient. XD More in the end notes later, thanks a bunch again for your review(s)! :3

inujisan: Yeeeeah, GUN are kind of jerks that way. :/ It's sad that something like this probably happened to canon Shadow, but at least in this story it has a happier ending. :)

Shadwow: Weeell, I tried to stick to the original storyline as much as I could (except for the end) but I'm glad you enjoyed this version! I actually grew to like Maria quite a bit when writing this. :) Thanks for the review!

Guest: Hahah, no worries, this story can fit into the headcanon easily still, with only minor adjustments. ;) More in the end notes below the epilogue!


Life Could Have Been So Different: Epilogue

"So...that is how it all went down?" Sonic asked, looking slightly dazed when the black hedgehog, after what had seemed like an eternity, appeared to have finally come to an end. Shadow nodded, and looked at his empty drinking glass.

"Yes. That was what the papers were never supposed to print." He put the glass down. "GUN's image needed to remain intact as an organization, so only a few officials took the fall for the massacre. There wasn't much we could do." He shrugged. "Professor Gerald had incriminated himself with some of the decisions he had taken, and we were in need of a few favours to grant me citizenship without problems, so..." he looked to the side, not quite meeting Sonic's gaze. "The prize for our freedom was our silence. At least Commander Graves was imprisoned."

Sonic nodded. Of course, he had heard about that part like everyone. It hadn't been too long ago; the whole media circus around the catastrophe with the ARK had only taken place a little under a year and a half ago, only a few months before the day Tails had died. He and Shadow had had only a few run-ins before that, none of them too friendly, like the battle in Green Forest, where they had brawled because of a misunderstanding. After Tails' death, just like Sonic had disappeared from public life, Shadow had rapidly risen to fame with some heroic deeds, and become a favourite with the newspapers while I holed up in my house and wished I was dead, Sonic thought soberly.

It hurt. It still hurt a hell of a lot, and he suspected it would likely not change any time soon.

But it was...better. After one night of living vicariously through another life...caring again, at least for something...

Yeah, and him making me eat something and take a shower probably helped, too, a voice in his mind supplied with a bit of embarrassment. Sonic cleared his throat audibly.

"And then you just...went and got a house? Like Maria said?"

"Pretty much." Shadow shrugged. "It took a while, but..." his tone now was light again, the stories he was telling a much easier fare than the ones previously. "We went traveling for a bit before settling down. One time, the professor had wanted to explore some Chaos readings, that's how we ended up on the island of your friend by accident..."Shadow gave a slight wince. "I've never seen such an angry echidna in my life. We barely made it off with all our limbs attached." He looked to the side. "Seriously, the professor didn't even touch that Emerald, the way that guy acted you'd think he'd have tried to marry it..."

Sonic gave a lop-sided smile in sympathy. "Heh, yeah, Knuckles can be a bit...overprotective. You two didn't fight?"

Shadow frowned. "No. The Chaos field on Angel Island is different, and when the guardian manipulates it...it makes me dizzy," he admitted unwillingly.

"Huh," Sonic said again, once more mildly surprised by one of the many quirks the body of the Ultimate Lifeform seemed to display on a regular basis. Then he remembered something else.

"Wait. What happened to that Vincent horror?"

Shadow shrugged again. "He was...institutionalized. When they insisted on some mandatory counseling sessions for PTSD for the survivors, they noticed just how unhinged he exactly was. He isn't out yet. Sadly, I also had to learn that insane asylums don't actually practice electroshock therapy any more," Shadow added dryly, giving a mock-betrayed expression. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest lied to me."

"I'm sure any single doctor would probably make an exception in his case," Sonic offered with a shudder. "I mean, holy chaos. That guy was officially insane. Don't wanna imagine what it would be like if he had grown up to become the next GUN commander..."

"Maria would have had a fit and tried to become the new evil genius trying to bring GUN down, presumably."

Sonic snorted. "Right," he said. "Is she expecting you back any time soon, by the way? It's like, almost morning by now..."

"Not yet, no," Shadow shook his head. "I think she was planning to pull an all-nighter for some college project yesterday, so she's probably about to pass out at this point - and hopefully makes it from her desktop to her bed before she does," The black hedgehog was now exhibiting the sort of long-suffering patience any sibling of irrational people showed occasionally. "Not that her grandfather's any stabilizing influence in that point, mind you. He's probably doing the exact same thing in his own lab right now."

"Nerd family?" Sonic asked.

Shadow nodded. "Nerd family."

"Hm," Sonic replied, beginning to look a bit faraway at this direction the conversation had taken, and Shadow took that as his cue to stand up and snap his fingers in front of the blue speedster's face.

"Hey. Hey. Don't space out on me now, hedgehog. I asked you for a race, remember?"

"What, now?" Sonic asked, blinking. "It's not even dawn, dude."

Shadow shrugged. "It will be soon."

"Right...okay, then." Sonic said, a bit surprised how easily the agreement came to him, but, curiously, now also found himself almost looking forward to it. He would lose, he knew that, his condition was terrible, but he found he also didn't even care. After months of not wanting to do anything, of being even incapable to feel joy, there was something he looked forward to now...

"Okay," Sonic repeated, and, to make good on his word, rose from the couch and walked up to the door. " And by the way, am I really the only one you told that story to yet?"

"Yes. It's not something I can share freely," Shadow said, following his blue counterpart out of the room. Sonic was pursing his lips now, looking thoughtful

"That's a pity. It's a good story." He cocked his head. "Maybe you should write it down."

Shadow snorted. "Yeah, not likely. And anyway, I don't think I need to. After all," he said, stepping out with Sonic into the early dawn, "We're all stories in the end, blue hedgehog."

"If you say so, buddy," Sonic quirked a curious eye ridge at him, but didn't press the topic further. Instead, he gestured at their surroundings. The house he had hid himself away in was situated just on the very outskirts of Station square, which meant they were surrounded by paths leading into the Red Mountains on one side, Windy Valley in the opposite direction, and to more remote destinations just a little further away. "Okay, where do you want to race?" Sonic asked.

Shadow was silent for a moment, considering. The best racing was in the Mystic Ruins, which was flat, had gorgeous views of the sea, and was sparsely populated yet not far from the city. But he also knew that Sonic's friend who had died had had his workshop there...

Shadow took a breath.

"...how about Emerald Coast?"

"Hmm..." Sonic cocked his head a little. "Tempting, but no. Right now it's high tide which would mean we'd have to run in the dry sand which is no fun at all. You may have a bit to learn about racing yet," the blue hedgehog said, but there was a small grin on his lips, indicating it was meant as a joke, not as an insult. "The best tracks hands down are in the Mystic Ruins," he said, before pausing, and adding somewhat more quietly, his smile slightly more subdued. "...and I...also kind of want to visit a friend there."

Shadow was pretty sure his pokerface was impeccable. "Sounds good. Lead the way, blue hedgehog."

xxx

When Sonic took off, Shadow was at first even surprised by how fast the other could still go. Next, he was already racing after him with some determination, following him along the trains tracks leading to the Mystic Ruins effortlessly, although he kept his distance a bit when they arrived at their destination. Sonic came to a halt as they emerged from the tunnel, slowing down next to a pond and waiting a bit awkwardly for Shadow to catch up.

"If...you could wait here for just a second, I'll be right with you," he said, quietly, but at least meeting the black hedgehog's eye. Shadow simply nodded.

"Sure. I'll be here."

The Ultimate Lifeform watched as the blue hedgehog then turned and, instead of running, walked up a staircase hewn into the stone wall next to the pond, leading up to a small house at the top of a cliff. It didn't look like somebody lived there at the moment, but Sonic simply stepped around it, turning to walk along a grown-over strip of tarmac that seemed like a landing strip for planes. It ended at the other side of the cliff, facing the sea. It, like the house, looked disused, but at its end there was a newer-looking headstone that someone had placed a toy plane on. Shadow waited for a while at the pond, not looking at what the other did when he would have arrived at the marker, but when Sonic returned about ten minutes later, he hadn't yet seemed to have lost his smile.

"Hey," Shadow said.

"...hey," Sonic replied a bit awkwardly.

"Race now?" Shadow asked with a quirk of an eye ridge.

"Hell, yeah," Sonic replied with obvious relief, because then Shadow only nodded and took off immediately and that meant he had to run now, to move and that already felt infinitely better than the last year ever had.

The wind beating into his face...the ground rushing past beneath his feet...

Sonic threw a last look back at the stone on the cliff. The sun would rise soon. He had placed the marker there on purpose because this was the place with the first morning light.

Sonic tried to speed up and close the gap between him and Shadow a little bit.

He had wondered, only briefly, when he had said hello to Tails, what it might have been like if Shadow's best friend, Maria, had died aboard the ARK and his own little brother had survived that night in the laboratory. A universe where Maria was dead and Tails was alive...life could have been so different, Sonic supposed.

I wonder what that would be like. Would Shadow still drop by uninvited to talk my ear off and ask me for a race if he had lost her?

"Hey, blue hedgehog! Running out of steam already?" the black hedgehog now called over his shoulder, snapping the contemplative hero out of it.

"Say what?! No way! I'll show you what true speed really is..!"

Both the grin and the retorts came so much more easily than they should have, as Sonic put on a burst of speed, pushed Shadow forcibly out of the way and pulled ahead. Sonic knew that the black hedgehog was probably just letting him do all that, but he didn't take offense.

It was far too nice to simply be able to feel again.

Yeah, life could have been different. But it's the here and now that counts, and I shouldn't miss that, ever again.

"Hey, want to drop in for breakfast afterwards?" Shadow asked, once again interrupting his thoughts as he pulled even with Sonic. The blue hedgehog quirked an eye ridge.

"That doesn't sound half bad."

"Glad to hear it," Shadow replied amicably. "Maria would probably like to meet you – not to mention that I find it bad manners if I didn't feed you after handing you a crushing defeat, so..."

"Oh, you're on!"

And somewhere, someone else was smiling as he watched the two small figures racing away, skates scorching the ground and red sneakers a blur.

Reaching the Highest of all the Heavens wasn't easy.

It was especially impossible if your best friend's soul was still hurting so incredibly much because you were gone and there wasn't a thing you could do to help.

But now, finally, after a night so stormy that it had seemed endless, the sun was rising and two hedgehogs were running toward it, to unknown horizons beyond, and Tails soared.

Fin


Final Notes: (and how to make this fic fit canon again):

….finished. My first ever, multi-chapter fic, finished. You know, way back when, this was only supposed to be three chapters. Then...it got a little bit away from me. Yeah. Just a tiny bit.

Originally, this was just supposed to be a thought experiment – what would it look like if Sonic's and Shadow's personalities were reversed? And what would have needed to happen for that to be the case? One answer I figured is outlined in the fifty+ chapters you just read.

It didn't quite go according to plan – as you can see, the characters did not both do a complete 180, but stayed somewhat true to their canon personalities regardless (with some differences, obviously), which I attribute to the fact that I kept writing them in the canon universe in about a 100 other fanfics parallel to this fic, and that kept creeping back in. Also, it became clear pretty much immediately that if I kept throwing that much horrible shit into Shadow's life he probably wouldn't grow up to be the same happy-go-lucky personality as canon Sonic.

Yeah. Torturing characters is just a bit too entertaining. Sorry. (Not sorry).

Still, this version of Shadow is a bit more considerate, out-going, helpful and polite than canon Shadow, (while at the same time retaining canon Shadow's faible for violence, black humour, somewhat...loose morals and cynic remarks) which I guess is how I would envision him if he had never lost Maria. This one tries not to murder, at least.

The ending I had planned from the start. If you go back, Maria's and Gerald's "death" (which obviously didn't happen in this story) is never directly mentioned by either Sonic and Shadow when the black hedgehog is telling his story, because both of them know the entire time that she's alive and all of the Robotniks made it down from the ARK intact.

To make this fit in with canon, of course, just disregard the Chaos Control at the end, have Maria shot and Gerald captured and executed as they should have been, and the Commander's plan of erasing Shadow's memory a near success – since Doctor Robotnik drags him too early out of his cryostasis at the GUN facility Prison Island in "Sonic Adventure 2: Battle", canon Shadow would have retained some (partly corrupted) memories of his past as we know him, instead of suffering only the mildest effects of memory loss like here.

Also, canon Vincent would indeed grow up to be the GUN Commander in the games – the grey-haired boy in the flashbacks in the Shadow the Hedgehog game is the grey-haired Commander as a child. (In this fanfic they're two separate people, because of the missing 50 year gap). In the games he is called 'Abraham Towers' by now, btw, but when I started writing this fanfic, he didn't have a name yet. "Vincent Graves" seemed...suitably foreboding.

(And then, of course there were the game music lyrics "No more Gods, no more Graves" from All Hail Shadow, which I liked. If you take them as a juxtaposition, "Graves" as the opposite from "Gods" would be the literal devil, so I thought it fitting :p).

But other than that, it could be a pretty plausible version (for Sonic-the-Hedgehog-standards, anyway...) of Shadow's childhood and how he grew up to be the character we know him as. For me, it was a lot of fun to write it, and having such a background story for a character also helps immensely when writing him in other fanfics – small allusions to this story in said other fanfics all part of the fun, of course.

If you're looking for something else to read now that you've finished this, I can of course recommend any of the spin-off oneshots of this fic, my *other* epic, Burning Arrow, Wildfire Heart (based on Sonic and the Secret Rings), or the adventure Sonic fic I'm co-writing with Skyblaze, "Advent of Equinox" (which is based on Sonic Unleashed), or my crossover story with Sonic the Hedgehog and Doctor Who, "Hedgehogs and Relative Chaos in Time". All of them feature both Sonic and Shadow with the humour, character development, fluff, violence and drama you all hopefully like and I can recommend them all heartily.

Or put me on author alert, because I may or may not post a bit of a spin-off AU fic from this one in the near future. Shadow trying to adapt to life on Earth, slice-of-life shenanigans in the Robotnik household or something, if people are interested. Thanks for reading and sticking it out until here.

And, of course, if you read, please review! :3 One last one for the road...

Taranea out.