"If you think you're going to give me another sedative, nurse, you're in for a rude awakening," Shadow snarled as the door to his room swung open. Ever since his admittance to the hospital some thirty-six hours prior, he had been under ridiculously close watch by the hospice workers. Fortunately for them, their job had been made especially easy since he spent the majority of the time in their company unconscious. Whenever he awoke and became too coherent, however, he was immediately swarmed with dozens of orderlies trying every possible method to subdue him, perhaps fearing a repeat performance from his last stay. The constant struggle to stay awake had become very irksome and Shadow had been just mulling over a possible means of escape when someone rudely walked in unannounced. His head immediately snapped up to glare at the intruder, only to find that it was Amy Rose and not some meddlesome nurse.

To say that he was shocked would be an understatement. He was absolutely floored. Still, he tried to re-arrange his face into what he hoped was a neutral expression, trying not to show any form of weakness in front of her. The truth of the matter was that a wave of sickness and guilt and something a lot like desire went washing over him like a tsunami, leaving him with a sensation that could best be described as drowning. "Amy," he said as a way of acknowledgment, inclining his head in her direction.

"Shadow." The pink hedgehog remained framed in the doorway, apparently reluctant to come any nearer to his proximity. He couldn't really blame her. Bile was rising in his throat, and he was disgusted with himself and what he had done to her.

The two of them regarded each other mutely for a long time, and it was hard to say who was more uncomfortable. For the first time ever, however, it was Shadow who broke the silence.

"Amy," he said, and his voice suddenly sounded scratchy and hoarse, as if he had not spoken in years. Why were finding the words suddenly so hard? He had never felt such a desperate need to explain himself before. "I.. I think I owe you an apology."

"You've given me a thousand apologies," Amy said, not entirely unkindly. She seemed tired more-so than anything else, shoulder leaning against the door frame for support. As Shadow continued to stare, he could see the deep lines of confusion written across her face. It was obvious she was internalizing things; she wasn't sure if he was making the right choice in being here. He wasn't sure either, but he was glad for the opportunity to make amends regardless. After all, Amy Rose had always been the forgiving type; maybe she was willing to give him a second chance... again. Why else would she be here? The more he considered it, the more he thought the idea did not seem entirely impossible. His heart gave a nervous flutter of hope.

"I think I owe you one more yet," he murmured. He tried to make eye contact with her, to somehow convey how sorry he was to her in a more physical sense, but she refused to meet his gaze. "Will you sit down and talk to me, please?" The plea was awkward on his tongue.

"I don't want to hear another one!" she exploded suddenly. "'Sorry' doesn't fix anything. You sold out my friends, Shadow! You sold out me. You toyed with my emotions and played me for a fool. 'Sorry' doesn't cut it!" Her little chest heaved with the effort of her outburst, brilliant green 

eyes clouding over with tears. It tortured him to see her like this - to see her hurt, and know that he was the cause of her suffering.

"Amy," Shadow swallowed. "Please, listen to me. You have to believe me when I say… when I say that I had the best intentions in mind."

Amy gave a scream of mirthless laughter. "That's rich, Shadow. Using me to barter for the last Emerald, Shadow? Deliberately handing me over to Robotnik so that I could play hostage? Whose intentions did you exactly have in mind, hm? You were going to let me die! Didn't you hear him, back on the airship? Robotnik said he was going to kill me!"
"And didn't you hear me?" Shadow snapped suddenly. "I would never let him lay a hand on you, Amy. I would destroy him."

"But what if you still didn't have the sample? What if I was the last thing standing in your way? What if Robotnik had asked you to finish me off, too?"

Shadow looked uncomfortable. "It would have never come to that."

"But you can't say that for sure!" Amy said shrilly. "What if it had, Shadow? Would you cast my life aside, as easily and as willingly as you were with Sonic's? Would you trade me in… for… for her?" Her voice cracked with the effort, and she had to close her eyes for a moment, trying desperately to regain her composure before it gave way completely. When she opened them again Shadow was watching her with that strange, tender expression that she had grown so accustomed to over the past few days. For some reason, it angered her further. Maybe because he had probably given Maria that same look, countless times before, whether she had been aware of it or not. That look didn't belong to Amy, it belonged to her. It felt borrowed, stolen even.

"I – I tried to tell them," she said, shaking with rage and pain, an explosive combination. "I kept defending you – all along. I have given you everything, Shadow – my trust, my thoughts, my love. And this is how you've repaid me? Everything I have done these past weeks, I've done for you. And what have you given me? Nothing! Everything you do, you do for her. You are the most selfish animal I have ever met. You – you used me."

"That isn't true," Shadow told her desperately. "I didn't just have an agenda, Amy. My feelings – they're… they're genuine. Maybe I'm not as good as expressing them as… as the faker," his face scrunched up as he said it, eyes slightly narrowed, and for the first time Amy wondered if he had been secretly jealous this entire time, as discreetly envious of Sonic as Sonic had been of him. "I'm not good with words… or-or… chivalry, or bravado. I can't swoon you with fancy words, or sweep you off with your feet with dramatic displays. I never had that kind of style or social grace, like he does." He swallowed. "I've been alone for so long… I don't know proper etiquette, and I've never been good with words… communication has never been a strong point with me, after having been isolated for so long. But I love you, Amy, even though I can't explain it. I don't know how or why, but it it's there; and you have to believe me when I tell you that it exists inside of me, because I could never properly convey it in words alone. It's so… so much more greater than that. So please, please believe me when I say that I love you, and that I wasn't using 

you, or creating falsities to lure you in… I never meant to deceive you, Amy; I didn't simply fabricate lies for my own ends, Amy. Everything I've tried to shown you… it's real."

"You kept things from me, Shadow," Amy told him, shaking her head ruefully. "You were working to get her back the entire time. And you kept that from me."

"I did," Shadow nodded, and bowed his head. "I can't deny that. But that was the plan before… before we got involved, don't you see? How could I explain it to you… how could I make you understand, after all that had transpired between us? Suddenly I was in so far, so deep… I was afraid if that I let you know what I was up to, you would leave me, and I would be alone again. And more than anything, I… I don't want to be alone anymore."

"I told you not to take the Emeralds," Amy said, glaring at him. "You gave me your word. And you broke it!"

"Amy, I'm not Sonic," Shadow told her evenly, and maybe it was the fact that he had used Sonic's name that had made her momentarily lose her anger. She couldn't remember the last time she had heard him call him that. "I don't have… conventional honor, or whatever you want to call it. I know that I lied to you. But wouldn't you have done it, if you were in my position? Maria… she was such an integral part of my life, both past and present... Someone so revered, so dearly missed and loved… wouldn't you have jumped at the opportunity to be re-united with a loved one of that stature?" His words immediately reminded her of Sonic, and what he had told her back on the hilltops, and her expression softened. Sonic, the one who was going to be killed in Maria's name, the one that posed the most immediate threat, the one who was to be eradicated; Shadow was going to kill him without a second thought, and still, the blue hedgehog had forgiven him, just like that.

Maybe it was Sonic all along who had understood the grey area between the black and white after all; maybe he had had a better understanding of phrases such as 'anti-hero' and 'anti-villain'. Maybe she was the one who didn't get it.

She recalled Rouge's words as well, how the bat had so easily dismissed Shadow's treachery… was everyone willing to make amends except her? After all, she was the only one who had escaped the ordeal unscathed, and yet here she was, the most difficult to appease.

She was dimly aware that Shadow was still speaking. "I thought after all was said and done, after I had achieved my ends, I would be able to explain it… that you would understand fully in the end."

"He forgave you," she said suddenly, shifting uncomfortably before him. "Did you know that? You were just going to kill him, just like that, and he forgave you anyway." She sat down on the hospital bed beside him, barely aware of what she was doing. "Had you actually gone through with it, I couldn't have. I would have hated you forever."

"Then I'm glad I wasn't able to," Shadow told her honestly. He lifted his hand, moving it as though to put it on her shoulder, and she stared at him. He seemed to lose his nerve then 

suddenly, and let it drop down again into his lap. "I never want to lose you, Amy. I want you here with me, always. I really do love you."

"But you love her, too," Amy said sadly, shaking her head. "And that's the problem." She suddenly pulled out the DNA sample Sonic had nicked from the battleship before it had been incinerated. She handed it over to Shadow, deliberately avoiding his gaze, and the onyx-furred hedgehog appeared shocked.

"But… how…?"

"It's from Sonic," she told him, looking away. "He wanted me to give it to you."

Shadow appeared even more surprised. He cradled the sample delicately in his arms, the way a mother would hold a newborn child. The display of absolute reverence and adoration sickened her, but she tried to refrain from throwing him a look of disgust.

"Tell him… I'm grateful," Shadow murmured.

"Tell him yourself," Amy said, folding her arms across her chest as she stared pointedly at the wall.

"Amy, look at me." And suddenly his hand was on her shoulder, pulling her toward him. Amy reluctantly turned her head to acknowledge him, finding his gaze especially difficult to meet. Those ruby orbs did funny things to her, and she wasn't sure how to feel, faced with such obvious sincerity. Shadow had sat the dish down on the bedside table beside him, instead focusing all of his attention on her. "Had it been you, in her stead… if it was you that was missing from my life… I would have risked it all, as well. I would turn my back on the world, just to be re-united with you again."

And you say you're not good with words, Amy thought irritably. Who thought a freak would be able to recite such poetry?

"Shadow?" Amy asked against her better judgment. "What do you see, when you look at me? Do you see her?"

"Sometimes," he admitted quietly. "But mostly, I see you. And it's these parts that I love the most."

Will I ever come first? Amy thought sadly. Or will I always be walking in her shadow?

"Amy… can you ever forgive me?" Shadow asked her suddenly, the words eerily familiar as he watched her. "Knowing that I've committed horrible crimes? Knowing that I may commit more?"

How can you use that against me? Amy wondered internally, but the words had Shadow's desired affect – she suddenly understood. She realized that this was what he had been trying to tell her all along, although not in so many words. Hadn't he told her several times that he was an awful person? Hadn't he told her that had committed heinous crimes in the past, and that he was bound to do more? And hadn't she told him that it was okay, and that she loved him regardless? He had been trying to convey to her a message all this time; he had been trying to express to her the magnitude of the situation without actually putting it into literal words. He had been warning her since day one, and she had dismissed it.

And here she was, after reassuring him that it was okay; three days later, and she was so determined to hate him. But she had known. Was that really fair, then?

She felt the righteous anger washing out of her, replaced with a sudden remorse. "I forgive you, Shadow," she whispered. An expression of great relief crossed his face and he grew more relaxed, even radiant, at least by his standards.

"I love you, Amy," he told her.

"I love you, too," she said softly, and he smiled – the first real, genuine smile he had ever given her. It seemed strange, out-of-place, comical even. Shadow was just someone who shouldn't smile. She could have laughed at the absurdity of it.

"Let's leave this place," he told her, grinning that same maniacal smile. "Let's just get up and leave. We'll – we'll go to the beach, and we'll just live there, right on the sand, all by ourselves. Let's just go away, forever."

"Shadow, we can't."

Shadow shook his head. "What is your infatuation with the city, anyway? It's over-populated, filthy, smelly, full of ignorance, and polluted. But if you're determined to stay, we can. I suppose I could put up with it, for you."

"You don't get it, Shadow," Amy told him. "That's not what I'm saying. Listen to me: there is no 'we'. There is only you… you and Maria."

Shadow's face fell. "But you said…"

"I do love you, Shadow," Amy told him earnestly, taking his hand in her own and putting it up against her chest, right where her heart was beneath her dress. He could feel its beating beneath his fingertips. "I love you more than you'll ever know. But you know what? Coming in second sucks. And that's all I'll ever be to you: number two."

Sonic was waiting for her downstairs. He was leaning against the wall by the nurse's station, arms folded across his chest and tapping one foot. When he saw her, he drew himself up to his full height and eclipsed the threshold of the room, meeting her halfway. His expression was one of genuine concern.

"How'd it go?"

"It went… okay," Amy said, not really all that eager to discuss what had transpired in Shadow's room. Sonic seemed to sense her reluctance to speak on the manner, and perhaps he didn't want to know all the details anyway, afraid of what it might mean.

"You alright, at least?"

"No," she admitted honestly, and he swung an arm around her, pulling her into a familiar sideways hug. She leaned into his warm embrace, feeling his love for her wash over him, creating a protective shield that could not be penetrated. With him, she was safe; with him, nothing could harm her. The immediate pain seemed to diminish a little, residing in the warm comfort of his secure, steady hands "But I will be. Thanks, Sonic."

"'S what I'm here for," Sonic told her simply, and for a moment they simply stood there, content to simply enjoy the feel of their shoulders pressed against one another. It was a moment before anyone spoke. "Hey, Amy… whatcha got planned for the rest of the day?"

She looked up at him curiously. "Nothing. Why?"

Sonic shrugged. "Well, I just don't want you just sitting at home and sulking or anything, you know? Shouldn't waste a pretty day like this." He gestured out the window with his free hand, where the streets were bustling with activity. "How about we catch a movie or something? Get a bite to eat with the gang?"

"Sonic," Amy said, leaning further into him. "That's the best idea I've heard all day." And the two of them headed through the sliding glass doors into the world beyond, where the sun was bright and the sky was clear and blue.