(slight SPOILER warning and a bit of fan ad-libbing (improvisation to explain something))
It has been almost a year since Mephiles the Dark had been defeated. As for whether the terrible, tempestuous future that they had seen would come to pass: that was still unknown.
When the flames of hope were extinguished, the events of that particular adventure had been extinguished too....or most of them at least....
The city lights burned neon and the streets seemed to gleam gold beneath them but that was nothing compared to the smooth, black velvet night-sky above studded with a thousand diamond-studded stars.
Club Rouge was closed for the evening, not because the night-life was bad for business or anything; just because the club's sultry owner knew that her two house guests hated the loud, pumping music.
Yes, give Shadow the Hedgehog and E-123 Omega the cries of a thousand warriors in battle, missiles launching and guns exploding into fire but never dance music.
Rouge sank down on to the bed and gave a lingering glance to the call-phone embedded into her glove as if she expected G.U.N. to have the nerve to try and call her again. The day had been tough and the missions had been endless.
"But the pay has been great," she purred happily to herself producing a very large pear-shaped diamond from her chest plate. The gem sparkled under the dim light of her bedroom and cast tiny glittering rainbows on to the deep purple walls. The bat's aqua eyes glittered too as her glossy pink lips curved into a satisfied smirk. "Ah yes...just like your new owner, you are beautiful, aren't you, precious?"
Her eyes remained fixed to that shimmering stone until it was carefully put away with the rest of her sparkling collection.
She folded her wings into her back with a grunt. She was aching all over.
Her soft tanned skin was reddish beneath the sleek catsuit she peeled from her body. The feeling of a silky nightgown and robe was heavenly. The huntress' reflection smiled back at her from the mirror. She finger-combed the flicks of white fur at her neck, suddenly noticing an alarming bruise like a blotchy red rose beneath them.
"Ahh!" she gasped, fingering it tentatively. "I was wondering why it hurt so damn much-"
"LIFEFORM: ROUGE THE BAT! DETECTED IN THE VICINITY. STATUS: ALLY! THREAT: MINIMAL!"
Rouge let out a cry and jumped around. "What the hell!? Oh thank God, it's only you, Omega."
The giant robot flashed his eyes at her from the doorway in recognition, twisting his head from side to side. "YOUR MISSION WAS SUCCESSFUL?"
She gave a bemused smirk. "Successful? Indeed. Stress free? Not exactly."
"SENSORS DETECT PHYSICAL PAIN."
Rouge pressed an un-gloved hand affectionately to Omega's warm, whirring processor. She had such a fondness for that robot. Despite his fixed, cold, metallic speech, he always seemed to be able to express concern for his team-mates.
"I'll be fine, Omega. I just need a little sleep. Maybe you should take a recharge too."
"COMMAND CONFIRMED. AFFIRMATIVE."
He took up his usual sentinel position at the door of the living room and folded back into recharge mode. In a few whirrs and clicks, the mighty robot was reduced to a lifeless, gleaming red Rubik's cube.
Rouge smiled gently. She loved that big metal lug. He always spoke politely to her, never lied, never stared at her breasts, (a relief from most organic Mobian men) and of course he was willing to do anything for her. Even travel ten years into the future to bring a lifeline to a friend...another certain team-mate....
Speaking of which.
Rouge's concern suddenly focused on the other occupant of the apartment.
A flick of her wings, (her aching wings), brought her to the open doorway of her guest-room.
"Hey Shadow, you asleep?" she whispered softly, walking carefully inside. The door cast a weak amber light across the blackened floor and illuminated the figure sprawled out across the bed.
Ah yes, there he was.
The ultimate lifeform.
The world's deadliest weapon.
A dark hero.
A demonic creature and some kind of angel at the same time.
The fearless leader of team dark that was prepared to face Eggman, Mephiles the Dark's army of maniacal clones and ultimately- the whole world. Both the earth and Mobius.
The fierce, brave, emotionless warrior.
Sleeping like a baby.
She couldn't stop herself from gently creeping inside, alighting down by the hedgehog's bedside.
Just looking at his face, smooth black fur gently glowing under the weak light and soft tan muzzle relaxed instead of sneering or frowning, brought back vividly beautiful memories.
Memories of meeting him for the first time, learning of his past, sitting in a room filled with chaos emeralds and despairing but then being rescued. She, of course had done her fair share of rescuing too, Rouge remembered with a smile; the first time she had taken him here to Club Rouge after he had collapsed and watched him sleep.
She remembered her astonishment at finding him in that pod at Eggman's base, when Team Dark was first brought together, her worry that her old friend might be nothing more than an android and the hope that he wasn't.
Aqua eyes gazed down at vermillion and ebony quills, falling swiftly back over a handsome head.
No, Eggman couldn't replicate something like that.
Maybe the reason she was so drawn to him was because he had so much in common with the jewels she lusted after. Cold. Hard. Durable. Well-crafted. Majestic. Precious. Mysterious. Beautiful?
His hover-skates were tossed out across the floor behind her and his gloves and bracelets lay on the bedside table. Somehow he had managed to get them back after their little tiff with Mephiles.
Rouge ran a finger along the delicate gold rim of one.
She remembered Sonic handing it to her, the blue blur's eyes filled with regret and sorrow. Sorrow that couldn't compare to the kind that shot through her as she gazed out the window of Space Colony Ark.
True, he had been annoying, distant and the chaos emeralds had been her main concern since day one.
But his past...his tragic past that she came to learn...he saved her...he saved the world.
For once in her life, Rouge's had mind slipped away to something better than jewels. Something much more precious.
She smiled to herself again. He was back now. He was alive, real and here lying in her guest room.
As she bent down to his face, another memory found its way back to her.
A beach on a sunny day.
Staring at the pink hearts on the tips of her shoes.
Turning under Omega's shadow.
It was so unfair to her. Shadow did everything he could to protect the world and all they did was scorn him. He thought he was alone. She had to let him know that he wasn't:
"Shadow? Even if you believe everyone in the world will be against you, know that I'll always remain by your side. Remember that."
And was that a little flutter she felt in her heart when he replied, in a tone that was so much gentler than his usual gruff, solemn monotone: "I will" ?
Shadow was unlike any other person she'd ever known. What was it about him that made her feel...like this.
Curiosity and childish longing was suddenly aroused in her, she leaned her lips in close to his.
What would this feel like, I wonder? A giggle almost erupted in her mouth. A mischievous giggle. "Would he wake up? Would he blush like Knucklehead?" she thought, coyly, leaning in a little.
"Ahh, Shadow...Shadow the hedgehog...Shadow the Ultimate Lifeform...Shadow my hero...Shadow my lo-"
She snapped her head away. "What the hell am I doing? That guy knows how to stand on his own two feet. He doesn't need me. We're just team-mates. Allies. Friends, even."
Rouge flew to the door, suddenly remembering how much her body ached, but took a lingering glance back at the bed and its dark faced occupant's long slim body...suddenly thinking about how that body felt against hers...
Shadow grasping her arm and pulling her close to him, before shouting: "Chaos Control!"....
Shadow on top of her, shielding her from Omega's blast.....
Shadow catching her as she fell, holding her tightly against his chest like he was never going to let go...
The ivory bat clapped a hand to her muzzle in shock, feeling her face heat up. Oh no, thinking of that moody, amnesiac hedgehog did not just make her blush!
She gently shut the door and scurried back to her bedroom. Her head was swimming with thoughts again. Swimming? No, drowning seemed like a more appropriate word.
"No, I do not need this after a day like that," she moaned, massaging her neck.
But all it took was the feeling of soft silken sheets against her wings and a fluffy pillow under her head to put the huntress straight to sleep....
Rouge's eyes shot open.
Oh no, not again.
This had been happening since the moment he had moved in. At first he slept peacefully. Then Rouge had started to notice him twitching in his sleep, wincing a little and fidgeting.
Then the whimpering started.
He would cry out in his sleep sometimes. Sometimes about Mephiles. Sometimes about Black Doom. Mostly about Maria, his beloved friend.
Always the same strangled cries of despair and torment. Rouge felt she could never help him rid himself of. She felt embarrassed confronting him in case it brought back any more bad memories for him and he normally stopped before she ever needed to wake him. At first she would just snort to herself and think: "Geez, the echidna was never this complicated."
But after a while it started to break her heart, listening to his anguished little murmurs...he seemed so vulnerable.
And they continued.
They were usually quiet, muffled...so that only the bat-girl's sensitive ears could just barely pick them up.
But not this time. These were screams.
Rouge leapt out of bed and shot down the corridor to the guest room. Thankfully, the commotion had not woken their robot friend from his stasis-mode.
Shadow was thrashing about wildly, kicking the blankets aside, pulling at his quills and throwing his head back as if in pain.
"Maria! Maria! Come back!"
Rouge grabbed his arms, trying to hold him still. "Shadow! Jesus, Shadow! Calm down!"
His ruby eyes shot open, sending a chill up Rouge's spine.
The hedgehog stared at her, at all his surroundings, chest heaving with each hasty, ragged breath.
He gave a little shake to free himself from her grip and sat up, knuckling his forehead. "What the?"
"You were having a nightmare," Rouge sighed. "A bad dream. You were shouting..."
Shadow's face was emotionless for a moment and then he turned away, hunching his shoulders and sticking out his quills. "I am sorry if I awoke you but I think it would be beneficial for us both to return to slumber."
Rouge cocked her head to one side and felt her heart sink a little. "Shadow?"
"Rouge," he turned back, whispering in his usual icy tone. "Is there something wrong?"
Her ears drooped a little. "Not with me, with you. Shadow, is there anything...on your mind...you...maybe wanna...talk...about?"
He stared at her for a moment with a mixture of confusion and what seemed like surprise but said nothing.
Very carefully, she moved her hand to his shoulder.
"It can't be easy for you."
He sat motionless, still staring.
"You having the past that you do. All those horrible memories. You try to do good for the world but all everyone ever does is hurt you and fear you."
Shadow's eyes dropped to the floor and he remained silent but he didn't try to shrug her hand away.
Feeling a little braver, Rouge went on.
"After seeing that future too...making the world your enemy..."
She cleared her throat a little, suddenly adopting a lighter tone. "I used to have nightmares all the time when I was little, you know. About all the things I didn't like...school, time-outs, the monster I thought was in my closet...now, I have nightmares about things I do like, people I do like...being hurt and..." She dropped her head a little. "...disappearing forever...w-what do you dream about?"
Shadow shut his eyes and furrowed his brow. He remained stone silent.
Rouge couldn't tell whether he was upset or angry or annoyed, but it was a relief to her that he didn't seem to care when she gently tightened her grip on his shoulder. This felt useless with her doing all the talking. She took a chance.
"D-do you dream about...Maria?"
As if she didn't know the answer.
There was a tense silence but then Shadow gave a solemn nod. "Yes."
Rouge swallowed, her dry throat burning a little. "So...is there anything...you need to sa-?"
"No," he said sharply, turning away with a gruff sigh. "No, there's nothing. You should sleep now."
Rouge felt an unfamiliar sinking feeling in her chest, one that she could hardly control on her face. Her glossy lips fell into a frown and she shivered underneath the thin silk of her nightgown, suddenly realising how cold the room was.
"Oh...well, then...if you're sure you're o.k., I'll just..."
The bat turned to go, feeling a little irritated and a lot disappointed, but then a strong gloveless black hand shot out and grabbed her arm.
"Maria and I," he began hoarsely. "Would speak about our dreams sometimes."
Rouge slowly sat back down beside him, amazed to hear the dark anti-hero beside her suddenly opening up to her, his red eyes gleaming in the dim light.
He took a deep breath and sucked air in from behind his teeth. "She would talk about the Earth and how beautiful it was, how beautiful it looked and how she wanted to visit it sometimes. We both often had dreams about it. When Maria had a..."nightmare" and the Professor was too busy to comfort her, I would go to her side and sit with her until she was brave enough to sleep soundly again. Back then, I barely knew of man's cruelty so I had little to have these nightmares about...but I dreamed about losing Maria, my only friend...and then that nightmare became a reality."
He leaned forward a bit with a groan, as if trying to rid himself of a migraine and then went on, before the stunned bat-girl could open her mouth. "Rouge..."
She brought her eyes to meet his, rubies diving into aqua blue. "Yes Shadow?" For once in her life, a confident, flirtacious, seductive voice was reduced to a bare, warbling whisper. His darkened, aggressive eyes bore into hers and sent shivers up her spine.
"When you said that you would dream about "people disappearing forever"...were you referring to...me?"
She didn't know why, but at that moment, something inside her snapped. Her large blue eyes were suddenly glistening with tears and her lips trembled uncontrollably. She tried to smile coyly as she always would and her voice sparkled with her first breath: "Oh Shadow...you..."
Then a single scene, staring out the window of Space Colony Ark into the stars, grasping the gold bracelet of her brave, brave partner and thinking that she'd never see him again. That she would never see that strange, moody, dark-faced hedgehog that Eggman had introduced her to and that from the moment their eyes met, she knew she would always have a soft spot for...
Without thinking, she leaned out and wrapped her arms firmly around the hedgehog's torso, burying her face in his smooth, sleek fur and pressing her face against his thin, muscular chest and soft puffle of white fur. He was warm. He was real. He was here.
The hedgehog's eyes widened, his mouth agape in a shocked silence.
Rouge had started to cry. "Shadow, when everyone thought you were dead...and then you were alive again...but I didn't know if it was really you...all the androids...and now...now you have to hide because the human world wants to capture you! It's so unfair! And you think you're alone! You're never alone...I'm here for you Shadow! I want to be here for you like you've always been there for me..."
She paused, breathing heavily and for the first time, realising what exactly she was doing.
She jumped back like she had just received an electric shock. "Oh..uh Shadow, I'm so sorry," she laughed nervously. "I don't know what came over me!"
Rouge shivered, wiping some smudged mascara and went to stand up but Shadow held fast to her, eyes staring straight ahead.
"Shadow? What are you-?"
His next action would have been enough to shock even Omega speechless. He pulled her forcefully by the arm against him and locked her into a tight hug. Her heart pounded, almost exploding out of her rib-cage.
His voice was husky in a whisper against her ear. "Maria said that there is nothing to be ashamed about in embracing another. It displays affection."
Rouge said nothing but gave a little nod. She desperately tried to control the redness suddenly rushing to her face.
"It's ok to cry, Rouge," he whispered. "And for the record, you're always there for me..." He gave a quiet chuckle. "I have grown attached to you, bat-girl...as to why a charming, focused jewel thief like you has found some kind of crazy interest in me and lets a fugitive sleep in her apartment when there is clearly nothing to gain for herself from it, is a mystery to me..." His voice trailed off and his deep scarlet eyes suddenly widened again in sudden realisation.
Rouge slowly moved her hands along his chest, to his shoulders and finally along the quills on his back. She looked up at him under her eyelashes, allowing her eyes to lock with his again as his arms slid a little more firmly around her back.
Neither of them spoke. They didn't need to.
"Maria spoke of another thing," Shadow whispered, his face barely lit under the dim light. "That people of this world do to express affection...stay still for a moment."
Rouge's bosom quivered slightly as her entire body began to shake. Without removing his arms from her waist, he gently took her chin and raised her muzzle to meet his own.
"Shhh," he whispered, his breath skimming her lips. "Quiet for a moment...I want to just try this."
Hesitantly, he moved his head closer until their foreheads were touching, then their noses...then his lips very lightly brushed against hers.
Rouge let out a tiny cry of surprise and her wings fluttered a little, but she held herself closer to Shadow. "Can I try now?"
The hedgehog stiffened, but then nodded, wordlessly. She wasn't lacking in experience by any means, but she felt so naive and unsure in the ultimate lifeform's silhouette.
The huntress moved her hand to the back of Shadow's neck and beckoned his face down to meet her own. Their eyes met one last time, glowing in the darkness' careful caress before Rouge's lips slipped over Shadow's.
It was strange for them both but at the same time, beautiful.
Her lips gently pressed against his, returning the feeling she felt burning beneath. After a few seconds...or minutes...Shadow's tongue moved along her lower lip. She could feel the sharpness of his teeth against her. He begged...no, Shadow would not beg...he demanded entrance to which she complied.
Everything seemed to have left the room. Egos. Pride. Embarassment. Awkwardness.
Soon their mouths were locked, interwoven in a smooth, passionate dance.
When their senses emerged from the snare they had been in and their eyes re-opened, they both froze, realising where exactly they were. Rouge was now on her back, wings spread against the bed-sheets and Shadow towered over her, shielding her in his own shadow.
"Rouge...," the anti-hero's voice was deep and low like always, but there was a note of hesitance there- like he was afraid. It was dark but his tan muzzle had gone a considerable shade of red.
The jewel thief beneath him blushed and shivered a little, realising how little she was wearing; just her nightgown and panties, (somehow her robe had managed to slip off to the floor).
Letting her desire take over, she ran a hand along his arm, marvelling at the unflawed, tight muscles beneath fur she wasn't used to feeling with an un-gloved hand.
He quivered beneath her touch and seized her wrist, pulling it swiftly away from his arm.
Rouge trembled. "Sorry, Shadow...I didn't mean to off-"
She stopped, speechless, as Shadow moved her hand to his cheek, pressing it to his face. She gently ran her fingers along his warm muzzle, entwining it into his fur.
He gave a soft moan and leaned into her caress.
She had never seen him like this before- it tantalised her...more than the sight of any jewel could.
They gazed into each other's eyes again. It was impossible to read Shadow's expression, to tell what was going on in the Ultimate Weapon's mind.
He put a finger to her lips, silencing her, then leaned down and kissed her again.