A/N: We have another birthday gift this time. It's to a very special girl- The Andromeda Rose. It centers around one of her favorite characters, Shadow, long after any events in the games, comics, or shows. Just our look at the future.
Sword: Whee! Sounds fun! This is inspired by Rise Against's "Good Left Undone".
Pen: Shadow and all related material belong to Sega. Sword and I are owned by the author. But I would be willing to sell her.
Sword: *gasps* You evil person! *hits Pen*
One of Us
In a wide-open field where nothing grew except weeds and a solitary tree, Shadow sat underneath the dying tree's branches. The day had been sweltering and he appreciated any sense of shade he could find, even if the leaves were slowly falling off one by one. Thankfully, the sun was not high in the sky and was instead taking its late-night dip into the horizon.
Shadow often found himself here. More so during fall than any other time. Besides the good shade during the summer, it was quiet and secluded. After all, who would come to an overgrown field? Certainly not any of the families for picnics for they had the park. The officials had long since given up hiring lawn services to trim and maintain the field. This wild, unruly, tangled green and brown lump of hair on this scalp of the earth was merely contained. Like the tree above Shadow, it too looked like it was on the verge of death and decay.
The autumn chill was creeping into the field, swirling around the tufts of Shadow's silky, milk-white chest fur. It reminded him of what Maria had told him about the changing of seasons once.
"Spring is when the animals awaken and the plant life is allowed to grow once more. During summer, everything thrives. When fall comes around, one by one, the animals retreat to their dens for a long sleep and the plants die or protect themselves until spring. Once winter arrives, the process is complete and everything is dead to the world until spring awakens them once more." The impact of Maria's words now held another meaning for Shadow.
Fall had certainly come, after a long, long and pleasant summer. Basking in the warmth and enjoyment of others- when Shadow granted himself such- had been the best years of his life. If he were honest, he would not trade all the ups and downs, adventures and tragedies, good and bad times for anything in the world.
Yet, one by one, those who shared the memories had been ripped away. He no longer thought of the order or the ways they went. He shut that section off and only reminded himself they were dead and no more. One day, Rouge was there, still fighting with Knuckles as normal and the next day, she was gone in his mind. Same with Sonic, Cream, and Amy.
Amy, the ebony hedgehog thought. Like the others, she had lived a long, happy life. Her passing had hit Shadow the hardest, almost as much as Maria's. He had done his best to look out for Amy, sometimes more so than anyone expected, and they had grown close because of it. She had looked up to him like an older brother and he reciprocated that at rare times for her only. Even Rouge, his closest friend, had seen less of that side of Shadow than Amy.
But even Shadow could not save Amy from the inevitable passing. He had heard from Maria and others that death was merely a long sleep, like those in winter, and that those long gone would soon awaken when spring rolled by again.
Even Amy had said the same on her deathbed. "We'll all see each other again," she had whispered, barely able to speak. The wrinkles and her clouded jade eyes could not hide the peppy, spunky girl Shadow had still seen as he held her hand during her final moments. Even her quills popped up like in her youth and attitude had not dwindled in the slightest. She had left them, mourning like her friends and family had, but brave and ready like she always had been about everything. True or not, Shadow liked to cling to Amy's belief, if only to know that he would see everyone again and that it was not the end.
At least he had been able to spend a lifetime with the group. Maybe, Shadow pondered, he would see them again. Perhaps he might see Maria again as well.
Maria. Shadow had kept his promise to her. He had done his best to accomplish what he set out to do and the planet was safe. Most people had envied his immortal status, but he in turn envied those destined to pass on. They knew when their time was over and were not left lingering behind, wondering if they were still needed and if their mission was finished. Shadow dwelled on that day after day and yielded no answer everytime.
There was nothing that needed his attention, so he thought about leaving often. Find a place to live in seclusion until such a time that his abilities might be required once more. Or maybe he was not so immortal and eventually he would die sometime. Either way, Shadow knew he was not needed in the city anymore.
He hung his head and found a curious sight at his feet. A flower, with soft, rosy-white petals, stood defiantly against the dead grass and weeds. Its stem was bent towards Shadow, as if asking him to save it before it was choked out by the tangled mass around it. He obliged, wrapping his fingers around it, and pulled. Its stubborn roots refused to give in at first, but he soon plucked it from the ground and stared at it, holding it delicately in his gloved hand.
"Here you are," an old, tired voice said from behind him. Shadow turned to find a golden fox ambling toward the tree and leaning heavily on a cane. The fox's fur was thin, gray in several parts, and scarce. Wrinkles nested between wrinkles under his bright blue eyes, which were enlarged by spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose. His gloves and shoes were smaller now than they had been in his youth to match his smaller frame and the pair of tails behind him struggles to maintain their free-flowing movements.
"Here I am," Shadow said, standing to help the fox. He was waved off by the older one. "What are you doing here, Tails? It's a tough climb, especially at your age."
"Nonsense!" Tails said. "You sound like my kids. 'Be careful now, dad.' 'Now don't forget, dad. Your memory isn't what it used to be.' I swear those kids are planning to put me in a home. These old things have still got some flight in them," he said, pointing at his tails. "Anyway, I was just grabbing a bite to eat at Il Cielo Volpe- I haven't eaten there in a long time and it's still just as good as I remember- when I thought about coming to see you. When I didn't see you at home, I figured you would be in the most remote spot. We haven't seen you around in a while. Some of the kids were worried about their uncle Shadow."
"Really," Shadow stated disbelievingly rather than asked and tried to help Tails sit down. The fox stubbornly plopped down on his own and Shadow took a seat next to him. "There's nothing to worry about. I just needed some time to myself."
Tails stared at him, his eyes skeptical behind the thin lenses. "So how are you and all the kids doing?" Shadow said, changing the subject despite knowing Tails would not forget the previous one.
"They're fine. They're busy handling their own kids and jobs. I still see them when they can visit my lab, except for Knuckles' boy and girl," Tails said, looking off toward the sky.
"Well, Angel Island is pretty far. And it's not like they can leave whenever they want," Shadow pointed out. "The Master Emerald is in constant danger."
"Yeah, I know. Anyway, I keep busy in my lab, tinkering with some inventions. Keeps my mind sharp," he said, tapping his temple. "Yet my oldest is still talking about a retirement community. Why, would you put someone in a home like that if they had just invented...invented-" He trailed off, scratching his head. "Shoot, what did I decide to call it? I had a really good name picked out for it a couple of days ago."
"What does this new invention do?" Shadow asked.
"It's a terraforming machine, designed to counter a wide range of environmental problems. I was planning to test it out here actually." Tails swept his hand limply across the field of weeds. "I remember when it was covered in flowers of every color. When the sun was low in the sky, it would hit all the petals just right and the scene was just breath-taking. Made for a good date," he chuckled, his laughter coming out like airy gasps. He leaned back against the tree, hands folded over his stomach. "I'd like to see it like that again and let everyone else have the same experience."
"A field of flowers, huh?"
Shadow could not see it. All he saw was the even vigilant army of thorns laying their wooden snares for any opposition. "Don't bet on it working necessarily," Shadow said, twirling the solitary flower around in his hand. "Lots of attempts were made to just maintain it. It'll never be the same as it was before."
"No, not the same. But if I do the best I can and work hard at it, this could be better than before. It could be even more wonderful for everyone else," Tails countered.
"It could be worse."
"Maybe," Tails shrugged. "But at least I'll be able to say I tried to make it a little better."
Shadow did not have any answer for that. He just spun the fragile plant between his thumb and forefinger faster, its petals becoming a flurry of lovely colors.
"To be honest, I'm worried about you too," Tails said. Shadow cringed at the return of the subject. "You're not around as much as you used to be and even though you like to think you can hide your feelings, I can tell something is wrong." Shadow stayed silent and Tails sighed. "C'mon," the old man said, putting his cane at his side. "What's on your mind?"
Shadow missed Rouge. Even though she could read him well, she did not press him for information. There was no doubt that Tails was highly intelligent, but he could be socially stupid and stubborn. Shadow admired the latter to an extent, seeing as how he was the same way most of the time.
He studied Tails for a moment and relented. There was no harm doing so. "I've just been thinking about whether I should leave or not. I'm not really needed here anymore."
"What do you mean?"
"Maria-" He paused, gathering his words together. "I made a promise to Maria to give the people here a chance. To help them." Tails nodded, urging him to continue. "Well, I've done that. Eggman is long gone and all we have now are a string of pretenders to his throne. Some more vicious, some not as intelligent, some more goofy."
"I like those ones the best," Tails said, laughing.
Shadow allowed himself a rare smile. "Me too. Anyway, everyone's kids have those lunatics under control. So I'm not really needed."
Tails raised an eyebrow once more. "There's something else, isn't there?" he asked.
For a moment, Shadow felt like he was talking to Rouge once more. When had Tails become that intuitive? "Yes," he simply said, watching the flower again, its petals beginning to stain brown. One of the smaller pieces fell to the ground, seeming to shrivel up upon contact with the dirt.
"I'm not really needed in any sense anymore. Immortality has its downsides. It means I have to watch everyone else die. Once you pass," he turned to Tails, "then that's it. I'm not connected by blood to anyone's family. I have no children of my own. There shouldn't be any point for me to stay once everyone I know is gone." He felt like he was letting on a little too much. In decades prior, he would never have been that open, but the fellowship of the others had opened his heart after a long while. And he had let himself become close to them.
Tails rested a hand on his shoulder, drawing Shadow's face back to him. "After all this time, that's what you think you are?" He chuckled, his mouth twitching upwards ever further with each word. "I know Amy and Rouge were the closest to you, but the rest of us saw you as family, blood or not. Even Sonic and Knuckles, chiding aside, saw you as a brother, just like I do. And the kids love you. You're like an uncle to them and a grandfather to the little ones. I would've thought you'd have figured that out by now."
"They seem like they get along fine without me," Shadow said. "And the little ones usually cower before me."
"Well, you are intimidating," Tails pointed out. "You don't know it, but the kids do love you. At the very least, I know mine do, although I'm sure the others do as well. They talk about you often and I know it would break their hearts if you left. They love you just as much as everyone else did."
"I think you're-"
"I'm not wrong," Tails said flatly. "You don't know because you don't visit as often anymore. I know you still miss the others. I do too. But that's no reason to shut yourself off from the world."
Shadow did not say anything. He just watched another darkened petal fall to the ground.
"Soon- but hopefully not too soon- I'll be gone. Then what will you do? Run off and live by yourself? Become a hermit? Or would you rather stay and enjoy the parts of ourselves we've left behind? The family that could use your help?"
Shadow was intrigued by that part. Memories could only last for so long and he knew in the years to come that despite his best efforts, there was a chance he would forget everyone and everything. It had happened before and taken a while to remember. What if he was not so lucky next time? Besides, the more he thought about it, the more he knew that the children were spitting images of their parents. Tails' girl, for example, was every bit the shy, introverted genius her father had been before Sonic brought him out of his shell.
Yet, Shadow was not entirely convinced. "They're grown. They know what they're doing and don't need my help."
"But the grandkids don't." Tails tapped his chin thoughtfully. "If that's not enough to convince you, think of it that I'm putting them in your charge. I think everyone would be happy with that. You can make sure they have some guidance."
Shadow looked out over the field, just as the last vestiges of the sun were disappearing. For a moment, the celestial body's light hit his flower just right so that the petals seemed to spring to life before him. Even the weeds and hair of the earthy beast before them were almost a good sight better to gaze at. For a moment, Shadow could envision what Tails had told him. A field of gorgeous flowers, better than the current scenary, possible through persistance by forces like the stubborn flower in his hand.
He pushed his fingers into the soil, digging a small hole, and planted the flower back in. Satisfied, Shadow dusted his hands of the dirt, and turned to Tails. "Alright," he said. "I can do that."
That phrase. It echoed chillingly in his mind and he swore that Tails' voice had become lighter, dainty, and breathless. Just like Maria's. "Promise me, Shadow," she said in his mind, the faint traces of her last moment repeating for the umpteenth time in his life.
"What?" Shadow asked, his eyes widening.
Tails cocked his head to the side, confusion written on his face. "I said 'Promise me?'"
It was gone. Just a slight trick of the mind. Shadow closed his eyes, shaking his thoughts back into place, and nodded. "Yes. I promise."
"Good," Tails said. His stomach growled like a wounded animal and he sheepishly grinned. "Guess I didn't have much for lunch."
"Want to get something to eat? I'll buy."
"Sounds good," Tails said, yawning and stretching his back. "How about we go to Il Cielo Volpe? I haven't been there in months."
Shadow erased his frown before Tails saw it, but the chill still raced down his spine. He wrote the shiver off as the evening wind playing with him. "Sure," he nodded.
"How about we rest for a while longer first?" Tails' namesakes, despite their thinning fur, still made for decent makeshift blankets. He lay his head against the tree, his twin tails dancing over Shadow and himself before covering the two. Soon enough, Tails was dead to the world, leaning against Shadow.
As for the hedgehog, he quietly reflected on their talk as the stars began to signify that the day was gone forever; that the old time was giving way for a new one. He looked down at the fox, then back at the stars, feeling a sense of hope welling up in him about tomorrow and the future beyond. Tomorrow was looking like it would be a bright, sunny day.
"I promise," he repeated. At his feet, the frail flower swayed in unison, joining the resolve with its waving petals.
A/N: Happy birthday, Andromeda Rose! Hope you enjoyed this.
Sword: Hope your birthday is super-duper special and awesome!
Pen: Now go away.
Sword: *kicks Pen out the door*
As for everyone else, we hope you enjoyed this too. Please let us know what you thought of it and any critiques or comments you have. We also rated this K+, just in case the mentions of death were a little much. Again, please let us know what you think and if we should rate it lower or higher.