Sword:Hi, hi, hi! We're back with another story!
Pen:And it is a moody piece this time.
Pen:Yes. Something to bring you people down from your romantic, "fluff-filled" high into
the crushing reality that is life.
Sword:*sniffs* Will it be sad?
Pen:Very. All Sonic related characters belong to Sega. The author owns Sword and myself.
Er, don't worry, Sword. Just try to enjoy it. By the way, this story was inspired by Audioslave's "Shadow On the Sun" and Avenged Sevenfold's "Gunslinger". It's also a sort-of sequel to our other story "Dead Memories", but you don't need to have read that to read this. We'd also like to thank logoleptic for being awesome and beta reading this for us.
Shadow of the Past
"Shadow! I'm not going to call you again!" Rouge shouted from the kitchen. The ebony and blood red hedgehog grunted, pulled himself off his comfortable space on the window sill, and shuffled to the table. It had been Rouge's turn to cook and she had laid out a scrumptious breakfast for the two of them. She immediately began hounding him to eat as much as he could of the various dishes—pancakes, eggs, sausage, and biscuits. When he only sat in his chair, staring at his empty plate and not reaching for the food, she tried guilt-tripping him, putting on a show of her woe of how hard she worked to cook all the food.
Still he ignored her, his thoughts elsewhere. So it came as a shock, but no surprise, when she whacked his head with her large plastic spoon, dripping with batter, and pointed it threateningly at him. "You haven't eaten in the past two days! Now damn it, you're going to have something! Eat!"
He glared at her, but grabbed a biscuit all the same. He tore it apart into small, bite-sized chunks, slowly popping them into his mouth. Any other time, he would have greatly enjoyed it, as it was warm, soft, and flaky to a perfect degree. Yet Shadow's sense of taste was dulled and he neither really acknowledged the pieces or his stomach craving more. He merely continued for Rouge, who was satisfied enough to return to the stove and finish up the last batch of pancakes before taking a seat across from Shadow.
The rest of their breakfast was uneventful. Rouge tried sparking conversations with him, but only received short answers and grumbles in response. "I'm going to be at G.U.N. all day. They want me to brief me on our upcoming mission," she finally said, hoping it would bring about some longer sentences from him.
"Shouldn't I be there for that?" Shadow asked.
"It's nothing too important. Most of it pertains to my tasks on it," she replied. "Besides, you're still on vacation."
"No," he said, squeezing the second biscuit in his gloves. "They forced me to 'take some time off'."
"And they already told you why. Because you never take any time off," Rouge reminded him. "You were working non-stop. It's not good for anyone." He waved her off, continuing to tear off pieces of his food and stuffing them in with more force. "I'm serious Shadow. Even you can't work without a break. You have to take care of yourself. What would Maria say?"
Every sound in the apartment stopped: the oven cooling down, the hum of the air conditioner, the two G.U.N. agents chewing. Rouge's eyes widened at what she had said and they both knew it was too late to retract what she had said. Still, the bat tried. "Shadow, I-" but he was already up and walking away from the table and back to his window, to sit and stew.
It was a few hours later when Rouge left for the G.U.N. headquarters. She bid Shadow farewell and he had settled down enough to do the same. She came over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder, and offered a friendly smile. "Are you going to go visit her today?"
"Yeah," he nodded, still focusing on the cars merrily driving down below to work.
"Four years today. Excluding my time asleep," he finished for her.
"Shadow, about this morning-" she started, but he cut her off.
"Forget it." It was the closest they would ever come to apologies. He was fine with it and was grateful that she could understand the meaning behind his outwardly blunt and harsh nature. One of the many reasons he continued to choose her for company.
"Okay," she nodded. It took Shadow a few moments to realize that Rouge still stood there, looking indecisive and rocking on her heels. He already knew what she was up to and what she would soon say, but did not interrupt her. "Maybe you should go to the park today instead of hanging around here all day."
"No," he responded tersely.
"But it's not good for you."
Good for him? She did not know what was good for him. She never had to mourn for anyone. She had never experienced anything like he had. She never had to dwell upon a life-altering failure like he had. "What would you know about that?" he asked, coldly staring at her.
Rouge recoiled slightly, her hand leaving him. But regained her composure once more in no time. "I know that it's not healthy to dig up the past like you do."
He turned back to the window. "I have resolved many things by doing so. I can't help it at times when it comes to me. Besides, I'm remembering it."
"You're living in it," she argued, giving him the other points, "all the time. You blame yourself constantly. You don't just remember her. You can't stop thinking about her and not in the good way. It's not doing you any good. It shouldn't control you." She paused for a moment, stepping closer to him. He turned when she laid both hands on his stiff shoulders. "It's true that I didn't know her, but I do know that Maria wouldn't want you to destroy yourself for her."
"I'm fine. Really," he told her, wanting to end the conversation as soon as possible. Rouge sighed and he seized the opportunity to remind her that she would be late if she stalled any longer. She looked unsure about leaving, despite his assurances that he would be fine. The call to duty won out in the end and she walked away, stopping at the door to give her roommate one more farewell.
"Just remember that if you continue to dig up the past, you'll be buried with it," she cautioned. "See you later."
"Bye." And then she was gone and he was free from her well-meaning advice. He appreciated the fact that she cared enough to be concerned, but what he really wished is that she would let him spend the day, especially the current one, however he pleased. That she would let him be and not interfere. He had a carefully constructed process that had not failed him so far and there was no reason to change it, save for her worries. He brushed those to the side and continued to sit at the window, staring out of it until noon.
Around then, Rouge called, but he let the answering machine pick it up. He heard her remind him that there was leftover food from last night in the fridge and that all he had to do was heat it up. She begged him to try to eat something, but he ignored her. Breakfast had filled him up surprisingly quick.
He continued to sit there, useless and mostly unmoving for a few more hours, his mind drifting around to different memories of Maria. In everything that he saw outside, he had found her face in it throughout the day. And despite his thoughts starting out pleasant, they kept returning to the one fateful end that he tried desperately to avoid, but found he could not. The soldiers invading his station. Being thrust into an escape pod. Maria, right next to him, dying on the floor as he could only watch and do nothing. Each time, he had to shake his head, trying to wipe the images from his mind's eye. On a few occasions, when it became too much to bare, he had to stand up, and discovered how sore his legs and back were from sitting so long. His would wobbly pace back and forth, clenching and unclenching his fists, and breath slowly while shutting his eyes. He tried to shut the memory from view and dwell on a happier one instead. When he was satisfied, he would return to his seat, content to stay there until the horrible end cropped up once more.
Eventually, he rose from the window permanently, strode around the furniture in the living room, and left the apartment. Half an hour and a quick visit to the local flower shop found him standing in the city graveyard, clutching a fistful of maroon flowers. He had bought extra for the occasion, though had no idea if they were perfect or not. The only one who would help in that case would be Cream. She knew everything there was to know about flowers, fauna, and any other plant.
Speaking of the young rabbit, when he reached the round tombstone he was searching for, he found that she had already visited it recently. Perhaps only a few hours earlier than him. Her and her mother's distinct trademark flower bouquet of various colors, each with their own special meaning, was nestled against the stone base, obscuring the date of birth.
Others had come and gone as well. Tails had left several flowers of his own, choosing to stick to a bright yellow. Amy had delivered her own wrapped set of flowers, mostly consisting of cheerful reds, blues, and pure whites. Then there was Sonic, whose contributions had the tell-tale signs of petals ripped off from him running around to gather them. Even Knuckles had left a few plucked flowers that clashed horribly together. And then there was Rouge, who had leaned a respectful bundle of orange ones against the tombstone.
Weeks later, Shadow would feel thankful that everyone remembered the date and his dearly departed friend. But at the time, he focused solely on planting his own set down and re-arranging the others as best as he could to make the gravesite more presentable. It was well-maintained because of his efforts. The grass was cut short, the headstone was clean and legible, and not a weed could be spotted anywhere nearby.
He sat there, staring at the name for a long while. Maria Robotnik. Every so often, his red orbs would drop to the birth and death dates, and the last memory of her would strike him again, knocking the wind out of his chest.
Shadow did not say a word to the grave. Most people he had been privy to overhear talked to their loved ones like they were still there. Not him. He would not know what to say. Sorry for not saving her? Sorry that he could not do more? Besides, her body was not buried in the casket six feet below. He had been told it was empty, save for a picture of her; one very similar to one that the hedgehog possessed. So it would do no good to talk to a picture for him.
He nodded off for after staring at the name for so long. Sitting hunched over, his sleep was filled with fitful dreams of Maria and her being snatched away from him in a variety of scenarios, each one ending with her death and his failure. When the final one jolted him away, he found that the sun was already beginning to set. Shadow rubbed the traces of the last dream from his eyes and stood up, wearily blinking and stumbling away from the grave.
Tap, tap.His ears pricked up at the dull rapping nearby. Perhaps it was the caretaker, coming with his gardening tools. Or maybe he was carrying a shovel to dig a fresh grave for another poor soul that had passed. Shadow lazily gazed about, but saw no sign of anyone else. Yet the sound continued all the same.Tap, tap.
It had been closer that time, almost like it was right behind him. He turned to the row of tombstones he had just left and stood in place.Tap, tap.The noise was definitely coming from the row. Shadow raised an eyebrow, uncertain of what it could possibly be. He walked back to Maria's grave, the tapping increasing as he approached.
Tap, tap. There did not seem to be anything nearby that could be making the sound, either behind or around the grave when he checked. Just some tall brush behind it and various insects crawling through the grass. But it kept repeating, that quick knock, then a successive one. Knock? That was a strange idea, but the more Shadow thought about it, the more it did remind him of someone knocking against a door.
Tap, tap.That one had come from below. He could feel it on the ground, or so he imagined. "This is ridiculous," he said aloud, trying to calm his nerves from, what? Fear? Excitement? Anticipation? Over what? There was nothing under the dirt causing the noise, yet he leaned his head to the soft earth, flattening his ear against it all the same.Tap, tap!
It was louder than before and more hurried. No longer waiting in between its two taps, the knocker must have realized where Shadow was. It became urgent, like something calling for help in Morse code. The taps became pounds and Shadow could only stare in disbelief.
"What could be under there m—?" but he stopped, his eyes fixed upon the tombstone.
"No. That's impossible." There was no way that she could be in the ground. It was an empty coffin. But there was something there, and he had to find out what. It could be another person for all he knew. He perished the thought of taking it to the police or anyone else. He would be considered a lunatic and whoever was in the ground sounded like they could not wait for the authorities to mobilize.
Taking off as fast as he could, Shadow dashed home, hoping that Rouge had not reached their apartment yet. He burst into the living room, leapt over the couch and coffee table situated in the center, and flung open the closet door. He picked through countless pairs of shoes and jackets, searching for the one item he needed. Eventually, his hands wrapped around it and he yanked it out.
A shovel. One that Rouge had borrowed from Amy's supply of garden equipment. Although Rouge had used it for less scrupulous activities. Shadow checked it for any cracks and dashed back through the living room, clumsily banging against the couch, losing his balance, and hitting his head on the corner of the coffee table.
A string of swears spewed from his mouth as he picked himself up. His head spun and his eyes were completely unfocused. He reached out to the couch, steadying himself for a few moments and laying down the shovel to check his head. The injury stung when he touched it and there were a few traces of blood on his head. He found it lucky that he had not been knocked out.
When he felt well enough to run, he snatched the shovel up and raced back to the graveyard, zipping through evening traffic and taking every available shortcut he could find, whether on buildings or through sewer ditches. He reached it even sooner than he had the apartment and skidded to a stop at the tombstone he had left. The sun had already long dipped below the horizon and the moon was rising for its shift, granting him less light to see.
Shadow laid his ear to the ground, checking if the sound was still there.Tap, tap. Faint, but still audible. He swiveled around, looking for any other person in the vicinity, and saw no living soul. He jammed his shovel in, scooping up a large chunk of earth and throwing it behind him. It was slow going at first, but he fell into a groove soon enough. Jam, scoop, lift, throw, jam. Over and over, he dug deeper, his arms desperately trying to match the speed of his legs.
When he hit the five foot mark, he struck gold. Or in his case, wood. Abandoning the shovel, Shadow swept off the crumbly dirt to reveal a stock, wooden case with no distinguishing features or accessories. It was just a finely crafted coffin and almost completely bare save for the golden handlebars on either side.
Tap, tap. There was no mistaking it. The constant tapping definitely originated from the coffin. Shadow warily leaned over it, brushing off traces of dirt. The case came alive when he did, as if it sensed his presence, and the tapping became pounding. Hard and brutal, like fists pummeling the inside. Then, it stopped completely. No sound for a few minutes at all.
Shadow threw caution to the wind and flung open the case, afraid that his stalling had been the figurative nail in the person's coffin. But when he pulled open the top, he found no body. No corpse, no person. Nothing at all, except soft, deep red velvet and a cloud-white pillow, on which rested a photograph of a young girl.
He reached into the coffin and retrieved the picture. It was an old photo, faded and in black and white, but he needed no image to help him remember the girl. He filled in the blanks and grey areas in his own mind. The grey hair was actually blond, the pure white skin was more the color of a fresh peach, and those black eyes were reminiscent of pools of water that he could drown in.
"Maria," he whispered.
How long he stared at the photograph, Shadow could not say. But when he thought he heard a car driving around up above, he was shaken out of his trance. He searched the coffin once more, assuring himself that there was nothing inside, and placed the picture gently back on the pillow.
Shadow craned his neck to look up and found the stars twinkling above in the night sky. He sighed, grabbing a root hanging limply in the dirt, and gave it a good tug. He figured it would support his weight and reached for another. He gave the coffin one last glance and was shocked by what had appeared.
The photograph was gone. Lying in its place and taking up all the room in the coffin was the girl from the picture, body, baby blue dress, and all. Her hands were folded over her stomach and she was still as anyone might expect a corpse to be. The soft skin had become milky and looked cold to the touch, which Shadow confirmed when he rushed over and held her hand.
He found no pulse and she was not breathing. Where had she come from? Shadow did not know, but when she opened her eyes, blinking slowly and focusing those large, blue oceans on him, he did not care. She was there and awake. His mind could not process any of it.
"Maria?" he tentatively asked.
"Shadow," she smiled. That voice. That angelic voice. How Shadow loved to hear his name escape from her lips again.
"Maria," he gasped. "I—"
She shushed him. "It's okay now, Shadow." She held out her arm and he gladly accepted. He buried his head in her dress, his emotions threatening to overwhelm him. "I'm here now. It's okay."
"It's okay, Shadow. We can be together forever. Forever and ever." That last part sounded odd to him. Like her voice had become raspier and throaty. He lifted his head and jumped back. Her eyes were had lost their beautiful blue and were blank and white, like two ping pong balls had been stuffed in her sockets inside. Her hair decayed before his eyes, first grey, then white and stiff. The skin shriveled and gave way to muscle, blood, and bone.
"Come, Shadow. You wanted me. Now you have me," she said, reaching for him.
He turned and grabbed for the roots from before, but they had disappeared. She was crawling out of the coffin now, dust exuding from the gaping pores in her skin. She stumbled over, each step followed by creaking and cracking of bone.
Shadow scrambled up the dirt, frantically reaching for any handholds, but he only fell back down into Maria's waiting arms. He struggled against her hold, but she was far too strong. She dragged him back into her coffin, keeping him against her chest and staring up at the night sky. The stars were blotted out by complete darkness and all her could see were figures standing above, staring down into his grave.
He could just make out the shapes and figures of the people. One appeared to be Sonic, another Amy, and yet another Tails. In fact, everyone he knew was standing around the opening, just watching the scene unfold. What were they waiting for? Did they expect him to beg for help before they would rescue him from the shambling corpse? The figure of Rouge knelt down, coming into view so that he could clearly see her smirking face.
"What's the matter, Shadow?" Maria asked. "Don't you want to be with me? It's all you think about."
"Yeah, Shadow. Four years and yet you can't get out of the past," Rouge chided. "You neglect everyone else who cares about you. Especially me, and I'm your partner. So here she is."
He could not talk or even breathe. Maria clamped her hand over his mouth, shushing him softly. "No words are needed, Shadow. You've made your desires abundantly clear." A shiver ran down his spine as she just continued to soothe him and the coffin lid slammed shut. Complete darkness swallowed him and the corpse still clinging tight to him.
He managed to wiggle one hand from her and could only tap against the door.Tap, tap. Shadow struggled hard to accomplish even that. Maria's corpse kept snatching back his hand and he was forced to fight and free it again to deliver another tap, tap.
The routine went on several times before Shadow heard a heavy weight fall onto the lid. It was not a body, leaping into the hole to save him, but crumbling, rolling pieces of something small. Dirt. That was all he could think of. Someone was throwing the dirt back onto the coffin.
"No!" Shadow shouted, finally breaking both his arms free of Maria. He felt the side of the coffin for any way to open it, but found none. He frantically pounded on the lid, yelling at the top of his lungs. "I'm still in here! I'm still in here!"
"Yes," Maria said. "And you'll always be here. Forever and ever."
"Open the lid! Open the lid!"
"Shadow," Maria whispered. "Shadow." She reached for him, running a cool, gloved hand across his head. "Shadow." Her voice was growing more sensual and familiar to someone else he knew. "Shadow." He felt himself growing weak and the world around him was fading away.
The black hedgehog jolted, his eyes wildly running over the area around him before retreating behind his eyelids at the bright light in his apartment. His apartment. Shadow chanced opening his eyes once more and discovered that indeed he was back home, lying on the living room couch as Rouge leaned over him, worry and concern etched onto her face.
"Shadow?" Rouge asked. Her eyes were locked with his and she was waving a hand in front of his face. "Can you hear me?"
"What happened?" he slowly said, surprised that his speech was a little slurred.
"I came home and found you lying on the floor. I guess you hit your head on the table and it knocked you out. You had a pretty nasty gash," she explained. He gingerly touched his head, running his hand over the bandage wraps that Rouge had applied. "It didn't look too bad that you'd need to go to the hospital, but I can take you if you want."
"No, I'm fine," he said. His eyes widened and he checked his body. "Maria?"
"What?" she asked.
"It's nothing. I need to go." He stood up, but Rouge immediately pushed him back on the couch.
"No way. You're in no condition to run anywhere," she replied.
"I have to. Move, Rouge." She did not push him the second time, but she refused to stand aside. He took one wobbly step forward and failed to hide his dizziness from her.
"I'm not leaving you alone. Not while you're like that," she said. "I'll come with you."
A half hour's flight after Shadow conceded to Rouge, the pair found themselves back at the graveyard. She had been respectful enough to let him return to the grave himself, but she stood on the perimeter, keeping a watchful eye on him.
It took longer than usual for him to find Maria's name. The pale, barely present moonlight proved useless and his head was still spinning. But Shadow eventually found the right tombstone. He collapsed to his knees and held an ear against the ground, listening for any sound at all. It was completely silent, save for the wind whispering through the aligned rows.
He had been so sure that there had been a tapping sound. If it had not come from the ground, then where-Tap, tap. There it was. Shadow pressed his head to the ground once more and heard it. Yet it was not originating from the earth, but behind the tombstone. He rose slowly to his feet and checked behind the grave. At the base, hidden in the brush that he had overlooked before, was a squirrel, smacking a large nut against the stone.
Shadow growled, scaring the little critter off, before he resigned himself to walk back to Rouge. "You ready?" she questioned when he reached her.
"Yeah," he answered. "Rouge," he added, halting her before she could fly him back to the apartment, "about this morning and what you said- and about how Maria and how I've been acting—I just—what I mean to say is—" he fumbled over the words, not exactly sure how to apologize to her.
"Forget it," she said, getting the message clearly enough.
"You were right. Maria wouldn't want me to live in the past. She would want me to live for the present. For both of our sakes."
"Glad to see you realize it now," Rouge smiled.
"For helping me to see it," he said.
"Anytime. Though next time, I might just let my boots do the talking," she chuckled. Shadow smirked and allowed her to pick him up. She took off into the air, flying high into the night sky and back to the heart of the city.
A/N:That one came out…Actually, I'm not sure what to say about this one. Let us know what you thought of it. Couldn't really think of a good title either for this one. The first one we used gave the ending away. If you have a better one, let us know. Also, if you think we should replace Maria with Rouge in the character category, let us know.
Pen:Sword must've re-written my ending.
Sword:Yup! I love inferring!
Pen:You mean interfering, you twit. En garde!