Rifted Redux

Decayed Independence

Deep in her wandering thoughts, she had hardly noticed Shadow in the doorway of the room. Even in broad daylight, he always found nonexistent shadows to lurk from. Rouge had been sitting on her couch, trying to sort her emotions. It seemed strange to admit her relief at his presence, but she let it come; she hadn't felt relief in a long time.

To any other person, she would have warmly welcomed with her sultry and smooth hello. Shadow, however, required more consideration. She constantly found herself regulating her approaches around her introverted partner. Formulating a greeting in her mind that would appeal to him, she balanced her ridiculously mixed emotions.

Shadow was one of the most important people in her life, yet, did their relationship truly have any substance?

From the corner of her vision, she glanced at Shadow. Her friend had been staying for two days now. Of course, it wasn't as if those two days had been filled with much activity. Shadow spent most of the time brooding on the roof, staring mindlessly into space. He wasn't one for conversation; nonetheless, she enjoyed his company, grimly knowing she would wake up one morning to find him gone for another long period of time. The ivory bat turned her head to look out the window. It was now close to noon, and the sky was still a dull gray, which didn't help lighten the mood.

"Rouge."

She shot out of contemplation, looking back at him. It was surprising for him to start discussion. "What?"

"...How long has it been since the invasion?"

"Six months," she answered simply.

"H-Have... have..." Shadow averted his eyes and quieted at his stuttering. It was rare for him to have trouble speaking his mind; Shadow hardly talked, but when he did, he was always so well-spoken.

"Shadow...?" She inquired at his unfinished statement.

He fermented on his thoughts for a while before speaking again.

"Have you seen Omega?" Each individual word was enunciated slowly and with a subtle shaking in his voice. Still, his voice remained for the most part composed; he was skillful at keeping a poker face. "I haven't seen him since before the Black Arms attack. He wasn't around in the aftermath with you, either." he added.

The bat's eyes widened with this information relapse.

"He... wasn't..."

Suddenly, she was filled with concern, not relief. Omega, despite lacking fur and a beating heart, had always seemed as real a person as anyone else to both Shadow and her.

He didn't respond to her. He already had all the information he needed. Rouge understood with his silence that the subject was dropped.

The atmosphere had diverted from curiosity. Now it was filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

His question compelled her to voice one of the many she had.

"Where did you go?" she asked painfully.

His crimson red eyes met the floor, looking for something to say. He knew his answer, and he knew her next question would be why. He could logically compose a fabricated lie just as easily as he could tell the truth, but with Rouge, nothing could ever be logical in his mind. His thoughts went blank, and he found himself with no response. Her turquoise eyes intruded his solitude, demanding an answer.

"The attention from the humans made me wary," Shadow answered somewhat evasively. "I was simply under hiatus." When this answer did not change the look of discontentment on her face, he twitched his ear nervously.

"I don't see importance in this, Rouge."

"I didn't know where you were for half a year. No communication. To top it off, tabloids, news reports, interviews from the Commander of GUN and all kinds of government officials left and right saying you were dead. How was I supposed to feel?"

"I'm overtly not. So there's no issue." Aggravation began to arise in both of their voices.

"You could have contacted me. You could have let me known you were... safe."

"I would have contacted you if it was needed." Shadow added bluntly. "I can handle myself. I'm not a child. All this worry is pointless."

Slightly hurt by this comment, Rouge returned her glance outside the window to the colorless sky.

"Well you're here now. Something must have happened, must have really hit you hard, or I guess you wouldn't bother." Her tone turned into a near whisper.

"If you really need me, if that's why you came back, I'm here."

Shadow, though usually self-centered in his motives, was not heartless. He had tried to elude this kind of outcome for her sake, but the challenge of his independence, something he had not fully allowed himself to confront, was enough to disregard this. He was, long story short, embarrassed at his own inability.

His words were as dry as the autumn leaves outside.

"The only reason I came back is because I had nothing else to go back to. If you value my presence so much, you should be grateful I showed up for the amount of time I did."

A heavy descent in her chest choked her response. She couldn't bring herself to see the annoyance in his eyes. Instead, she remained fixated in the grey of the clouds.

Silence hung about the room.

Without word, Shadow exited soundlessly. She could read his eyes and see his pride was hurt, admitting to himself he couldn't stand to wander alone. Her first instinct was that he was leaving, but somehow concluded this untrue. Even if Shadow really was departing, she was frozen in disbelief from his lament.

There were no trees in Night Babylon aside from the dead and wimpish saplings planted along the medians and walkways. Despite this, leaves blew about, some resting in the rooftop gutter before Shadow. He inspected them, fascinated, realizing he had never really observed how they changed when the autumn season drew near. Such small details in the vastness of this planet. He would have never taken the time to notice it in his usual mindfulness.

Another odd behavior. It was almost as if he was growing fond of this planet. It seemed the Black Arms ordeal had softened him. Or perhaps it was the atmosphere he found himself in whenever he took his residence here, when he didn't have to think about anything at all. The military, the Black Arms, Emerl and the Professor, even Maria. When his past was as disconnected from him as the leaves were from their wooden vestiges... that's when he began to feel these strange things.

The real question was whether to accept these new feelings or not. He could just as easily shut them down and escape into solitude once again.

What would happen if he let them come?

He hadn't realized his gaze had been focused so intently on the setting sun. The grip on the brightly colored leaf loosened, and it fell to the persuasion of the wind.

He watched it float away.

Shadow had accomplished clearing his mind of all but one thing: Omega. His robotic comrade was last seen after the defeat of Metal Sonic, wandering away into the unknown with the deactivated menace in tow. The black hedgehog wondered what Omega's motives were now that Rouge and he had left him to his own devices.

He considered running off to resume his searches once more, but eerily understood how destructive of a decision that was. So strange, now his actions were not so simple anymore. Consequences had come like phantoms, consequences that involved other people.

Much as he detested to let her seep into his thoughts again, she came.

As if from a magnetic force, he was drawn to Night Babylon. A dormant sense told him what he needed was here. He had reunited with one of his teammates; now they both longed for the last of the triad. It was nothing more than the necessary coherence of the team. And it would remain simply that.

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