Things to Change
She looked at it with amazement.
Dr. Eggman's glorious airship fleet was now a graveyard of fire and ash. Every step resulted in crunching debris under her boots. Her surroundings looked gruesome and apocalyptic, not something to celebrate over. Strolling alongside the destruction made her feel less of a hero and no different than the demented doctor himself, despite the restoration that would follow. The heroes embraced and hollered with seemingly no care of the aftermath. In their minds, the damage was necessary for peace to return to the land. She wondered how the doctor felt about his own destructive tendencies; did he see them as beneficial to mankind in the end, just as they? After all, he had always idolized his philanthropist of a grandfather. Maybe. She didn't bother to dwell on the complex idea.
The strange-scented medley of smoke and fresh rain hung about the site. Chunks of metal and sparking wires lay smoldering- the remains of once magnificent fortresses of the Eggman Empire. At the foot of these graves, Sonic and his mesh of allies rejoiced over the defeat of the Metal Sonic, who remained sprawled on the ground, presumably to them, deactivated for good.
Its vibrant blue metal shone brightly in the surfacing sun. Droplets of rain delicately coated its exoskeleton in an oddly aesthetic manner. Its eyes were now an endless void of black. To the observing Rouge the Bat, this gave a chilling anxiety rather than ease.
"How is he?" she asked.
A massive presence beside her, E-123 Omega, answered.
"Analyzing: system offline. Subsequently no longer a threat."
The bat twitched her ears nervously, viewing the quieted blue robot with skepticism. "How do we know he won't just pop up and slice our heads off?"
"Processing: Internal batteries disabled. It is not possible for Metal Sonic to come online without outside facilitation."
"Good enough of an answer for me," Rouge sighed.
The black hedgehog next to her smirked; his eyes were unusually welcoming to her. He laughed, an odd sound coming from Shadow. It was brief, but it showed her a rare quality- his charming humor.
"It's unlike you to be so high-spirited," Rouge joshed. "What's got you in a good mood?"
"Don't get used to it," he rebutted with a smile. "I'm just amused at how quickly your demeanor changes." With this he coughed and paused unsurely.
"You... really were an impressive leader out there," he added, referring to the exhausting skirmish with Metal Overlord.
Compliments were scarce from Shadow, and despite her upheld disinterest in others' opinions, she found a warm blush rising.
Out of ways to continue the conversation, her eyes wandered off to the scene of Sonic and his peppy friends, the red echidna in particular.
She grinned at seeing his gullible face. All it took was riling him up to have the upper hand. His fists usually won over his brains.
And brains was something she definitely had.
She imagined the lush island he resided on, levitating by the Master Emerald's mysterious power. She visualized the thick jungles, the ancient ruins filled with intricate carvings, dazzling gems, and untold riches... and the ultimate prize: the rare and powerful artifact which kept it afloat. It sent a delicious chill through her- the thrill of mystery and adventure was an unsurpassable natural high. Though she didn't know the exact coordinates of the mystic island, she knew Knuckles would lead her right to it with a little bit of creative thinking.
It had been too long since she had embarked on a solo treasure quest. The desire to selfishly indulge herself was too strong. Since she began managing this team, every decision was aimed towards the general benefit of everyone. She couldn't tie herself to these teammates any longer. The life she had always lived wouldn't exist with that dependency, and she wouldn't cope with it either. Something had to give, but as usual, she chose to grind against the grain.
She would leave. That she was certain of.
"Well boys, I've drowned in this 'team' business for long enough. I think it's time I flew solo for a while," she announced.
Shadow stared her down. "So our adventure comes to an end. After all this time..."
"Well sure, Sunshine. Wouldn't you say we've all accomplished what we intended with this alliance?"
"Have we?" His eyes locked hers to his steely glare.
How could he suddenly make all of this so complicated?
She looked to Shadow, then to Omega. They were both focused on her.
"Requesting detailed explanation of your decision," Omega spoke.
Rouge fluttered up to Omega's height, leaning into his face with hands on her hips. "Because I said I was gonna."
Omega's tiny red eyes zoomed back and forth, confused at this logic. "OK."
Shadow crossed his arms. "Rouge."
"Whatever problems you have with me- or with yourself- it's wise to address them now."
The huntress folded her wings and sighed. "Look here Shadow, I'm going because it's what I do. I do what I want. I get what I want. Then I leave. We've all had our family fun days together, but it's over now. Time to move on. Isn't that what people do in life? They move on."
He gently shook his head. "There's just no changing your mind once it's set, is there? Rouge... never stop using your head, that's one of the most formidable things about you. I don't need to say anything else."
She paused, unable to reply for a moment. "Don't tell me what to do, Stripes. I'm my own woman- it's my choice and it ain't got a thing to do with you guys, so don't worry on and on about it." she huffed.
Her intended coldness wasn't successful in fazing him. "Farewell, ally."
The word echoed in her head. What did it mean to her? In order to figure that, she pondered what it meant to Shadow.
It meant there was something more than alliance here. A dangerous emotion. She studied Shadow's crimson irises and Omega's dotted ones. Even the robot's stare held conviction. It was impossible to the rest of the logical world, sure, but to her Omega's tiny dot eyes held sadness.
"Bye Shads," She nodded at him. He was silent and motionless. "Omega, you too."
She gave them her signature two-finger salute.
"Goodbye Rouge. Do not become eviscerated on your travels. Your nitrogen-compounds are least enjoyable when assimilated into the atmosphere."
"You are one of the more intelligent meatbags. Probabilities of this are low."
"Thanks big guy."
She turned away from the two faces she had been so familiar with for the past year and refused to look back. Another personal victory. She awaited the relief of ditching the responsibility of the two boys. It never came.
She was embarrassed at her thoughts.
"Shadow, I do not understand her motives," spoke Omega.
Shadow never averted his eyes from her disappearing figure, which was now being pursued by the red echidna. The rest of Sonic's friends laughed heartily at his squabbling.
"I don't think she understands them, either. I think it scares her too much to think about it."
Once Rouge had completely disappeared, Shadow allowed himself to redirect his attention. He was surprised at how nervous he was, nervous and unsure of the future. In the most simplified explanation possible, he felt... empty. There were still many things he needed to do- and know. He had intended to rely on Rouge for some of those answers. Now it was clear this mission was best accomplished on his own. How often could you rely on the sliver of goodness in others?
The massive robot had picked up the deactivated Metal Sonic, gingerly supporting it as a parent would. It was an odd sight coming from a walking arsenal.
"Metal Sonic: a creation of Eggman. He is my brother. Therefore he is my enemy."
Shadow observed the blue robot, small in comparison to Omega's bulkiness. It was nearly swallowed in his massive claws.
"Observation: Metal Sonic possesses information I have not yet obtained. This was confirmed in our previous battle. As the superior of the E-100 series and all of my creator's inventions, this is unacceptable."
"What do you intend to do with him, Omega?" Shadow raised his brow.
"I will find an external power source to reboot his system, then directly download his information into my mainframe. He may hold the key to the destruction of Eggman and the rest of my brethren. Afterwords, I will obliterate him."
"I see..." Shadow pondered, realizing that Omega's plans contradicted his. "I won't be going with you then. I have other things to... attend to."
"Agreed. Your accompaniment is unnecessary for this mission. I will destroy Dr. Eggman on my own, without the assistance of others. I am E-123 Omega, the ultimate machine!"
He smiled at this. "Safe travels, my friend."
"As you organic forms say, 'ditto'. Goodbye, Shadow."
With that, Omega wandered off, Metal Sonic in tow. Shadow started walking too, though he didn't know where. It was official: Team Dark had separated, whether temporarily or permanently he was not sure. This distance- this rift between them- had showed him how weak he truly was. He had relied on others to no avail. It seemed to him now real strength was possessed only in oneself. Maybe answers were out there. Maybe with those answers he would become stronger.
Walking alone and confused, it was a comforting thought.