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Is It Just Me?

Written by Felicia Rondo

Summary: It had been months since the events of Sonic Adventure 2, and Sonic had found himself unable to move on like his other friends had. After one restless night too many, Sonic bolted out of his home after midnight, in search of nothing… He was not prepared for what he would find, the following evening…

Contains: Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Depression, a godawful soap opera, and the absence of respect for the President of the United States.

Sonic shifted uncomfortably in bed, fixating on each creak and thump he heard in what felt like the darkest night he had ever seen. Sleep was not going to happen, even after spending the entire day running without direction.

It wasn’t that he had too much energy to be sleeping - his body was exhausted, but his mind had been racing ever since he lost… him.

“No, no, no,” Sonic said out loud, “I can’t keep remembering him…” Despite his verbal protests, it was no use - his mind wouldn’t leave the image of the dark hedgehog.

Eyes, an intense red; quills, rigid but elegant; chest, covered in a light fur that worked so much better for him than it ever could for the blue hedgehog - not in Sonic’s mind, in any case. Shadow the Hedgehog, once called ‘The Ultimate Lifeform,’ had become the sapphire speedster’s ultimate nightmare in the aftermath of his death.

Why oh why, the hedgehog lamented, why did he have to get feelings for the one person he couldn’t ever see again for the rest of his life? How come he couldn’t have caught feelings for Amy, or Knuckles? Why did it have to be Shadow?

How couldn’t it have been?” A part of himself reminded the rest of him. There was undeniably something in Shadow that was absent in everyone else, just about anyone could tell. To his regret, Sonic had gotten himself excited to learn more about the unique hedgehog.

Now he never would.

The flood of thoughts, feelings, regrets and daggers in his heart felt never-ending. Like his head was about to explode. In a moment of stress, Sonic curled up and spun violently in the bed he’d made for himself.

Shadow was never going to come back, he reminded himself repeatedly. While love could live well beyond its convenience, no matter how much one tried to stomp it out, death was forever. No coming back from it, no do-overs - when it happens, that’s it.

When he finally stopped spinning, he discovered his mattress torn to shreds from his spines ruthlessly cutting into it. It was of no consequence, as he knew he wasn’t getting a wink of sleep that night.

It wasn’t even that the pain was fresh. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, yet Sonic still agonized over it. He had never known such intense sorrow, and he found himself powerless to resist it now that it had so cruelly ensnared his heart.

Everyone else who had known Shadow for any amount of time had dealt with it all in their own ways, Sonic wasn’t the only one who mourned him, yet… Sonic had found himself in dead-last at getting over Shadow’s death.

Was it because Knuckles had never been mistaken for him, given a grudge against the dark hedgehog before they could even get to know one another? Was it because Amy would never understand what it felt like to, for one brief moment, wonder if perhaps she had found someone faster than herself, when she’d been leaving everyone in the dust for as long as she could remember?

Agonizing over these things did Sonic no good, but he couldn’t stop.

Could it be that Tails simply didn’t know how it felt to join hands with a super hedgehog in the stars, believing with all his heart that nothing—not even a moon lizard—could stop the two of them? What was their secret? How did they do it? How the hell could they have gotten over it faster than he did?

How could it just be him?

Sonic’s eyes were tired, but he just couldn’t give them a rest no matter how many hours he spent forcing them shut. He had hardly known Shadow to begin with, but nothing in the world made sense since he’d gone away.

It was 3:49 AM when Sonic lifted himself out of his bed to take his sore legs out running once more. The pain beneath his hips would have been enough to move others to cry out, but it was a welcome distraction from what Sonic was feeling inside.

5:06 PM. He had been running for thirteen hours and seventeen minutes. He didn’t remember the sun rising up, just that it was there and would set before too long. What was the use?

Desperately, the hedgehog tried to avoid anywhere he could be seen, instead running through quiet plains and abandoned hills. No one could find him, and no one could talk to him. He couldn’t imagine having the mental energy to hold a conversation with anyone, even as his mind’s ability to torture him never seemed to run out of steam.

He wasn’t making this any easier on himself, he could feel in his chest. At the rate the hedgehog was going, he would go another full day without speaking to anyone. This couldn’t have been good for him, that much he could guess, but still he kept on. Without any regard for anyone else, or any regard for the consuming feeling of isolation that was building within himself. Everyone else might as well have gone away too, he hadn’t heard or seen anyone or anything but his sorry reflection in so long.

But then, from an unknown part of the hedgehog’s self, a clear thought entered into his foggy mind, “Slow down.” He stopped.

Finding himself atop a hill, he discovered the entrance to Central City. The old hill seemed to watch over the city, while it remained bustling and oblivious to its presence. He tried to turn away, like he’d done so many times before, but he couldn’t.

Go,” a feeling told him. The feeling was directing him toward the city instead of away.

“Why?” He asked the feeling within himself, “I don’t want to go back. The only thing I could find there is more pain…” But the feeling illuminated his mind, letting him see that the pain was not to be found in the city, but in his own self.

Sonic had let his feelings guide him this far, it was all he knew how to do, so he gave in and ran. The city enveloped him in mere moments, the natural environment leaving his senses in favor of the sound of car tires rolling endlessly and the sight of the flashing lights decorated everywhere one looked.

This city hated him, as anyone could tell from the way it attacked and offended every sense of his, but deep down the hedgehog couldn’t deny that he loved it just the same. Even so, his love for the city was overshadowed. His heart had been stolen, and he lost the one who took it before he had a chance to get it back.

Nevertheless, he was there for some purpose, and he progressed forward to see what it was.

Strangers looked at him in a myriad of ways, none that Sonic liked all that much. Some still had a bad feeling about him, scornfully staring daggers at him; others seemed to admire him, but only in ways that made Sonic’s skin crawl; while other people simply didn’t recognize him at all. He didn’t know which of the three types he disliked the least, but the third was the current front-runner in his head.

As sad as he was, as easy as it was to drown in his misery, even that feeling was beginning to numb. Was it better or worse to feel nothing than to feel horrible? He wished he knew. He wished he could talk to someone about it, but any idea he had to reach out to one of his friends was twisted into the worst idea he could have.

If he went to Tails, he would likely be interrupting the twin-tailed fox’s latest reinvention of the Tornado for the umpteenth time; if he went to Knuckles, the guardian echidna would likely just be irritated by his presence distracting him from his duty to guard the Master Emerald; and if he went to Amy… well, Sonic didn’t imagine that hearing about how he just couldn’t get over someone he could never be with would be all that fun for Amy to hear about.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love his friends, far from it - each of them enriched his life in their own way… it just felt as though, somehow—even more than their likely unavailability—they were the opposite of what he needed right then. Like he had gone their entire friendship never needing to know until now that they just weren’t the company he needed during a time like this.

So what was left? They had to be months removed from the latest scheme of Dr. Robotnik’s, as the sheer scale of the last had sunk much of his resources that would take a long time to recuperate. Not one child had lost their balloon, not one old lady seemed to need help crossing the street, and the only animal in distress in his vicinity was himself.

Then again, he recalled, it was the city - there was inevitably and unfortunately no shortage of trash for the hedgehog to pick up. So, with a tired sigh, he figured he’d make some use out of his time. For all the good that would do.

Each alleyway in each street, he combed swiftly through them all for anything that would need picking up and placing in the proper container. He found many used water bottles to put in what recycling bins that were in the city, managing to barely fit most of the bottles in each of them. It was 6:45 PM, he was as tired as ever, but he had purpose, for now.

Much to his surprise, he happened upon a green chaos emerald that appeared to have fallen to the ground. He picked it up and inspected it, brushing the dirt off of it with care. Something about the emerald felt so familiar to Sonic, but his thoughts were interrupted when suddenly he heard a voice coming from above, “How dare you!”

He looked up and found a bat, hovering above him with a deeply-irritated look in her teal eyes. “Y-you?” Sonic reacted.

Descending down to the hedgehog’s level, Rouge demanded, “Give me back my emerald this instant!” Her frown was commanding and her tone was filled with such offense that the hedgehog almost apologized on the spot.

Shaking his head, the hedgehog said, “Whoa, hey, back up, what’s going on? I’m not trying to steal anything of yours, I just found this on the floor while picking up trash an—”

“Does that emerald look like trash to you?” Rouge questioned the hedgehog, frustratedly, before expectantly holding her hand out for the emerald.

With a sigh, Sonic gave up on trying to learn anything more about the situation - after all, he reasoned with himself, for all he knew it really was her emerald and it was his duty to hand it back to her as soon as he could.

He apologized, “I’m sorry, ah… Rouge, I think? My head’s just not here today and…” his eyes drifted towards the bat’s wrist, as she continued to wait for her emerald to be given back to her. “Wait… that’s…”

Taking a moment to register in the bat’s mind what exactly the hedgehog was referring to, she noticed his gaze had fallen to her wrist, clad in the ring bracelet—Shadow’s bracelet—that the blue hedgehog had given her when he told her and the rest of them of what had happened to him. To a stranger, it looked like yet another piece of jewelry on her, but the two of them knew exactly what it meant.

Before another word was exchanged, Sonic’s now-trembling hand gave the emerald to her. “I’m sorry,” the hedgehog told the bat, each word a struggle to get out with the lump that was so suddenly back in his throat, “I’ll just go.” With that, he turned around and walked away from the bat with his head hanging low.

His ears were then filled with the sound of wings flapping and, before he knew it, he was stopped. Looking up, he met the bat’s teal eyes with his pair of emeralds. “Rouge, I said I was sorry, I don’t know what more you want from m—”

“Just come with me already,” Rouge simply told him, before taking his hand and leading him away from his little mission to pick up trash for the city that hated him.

Inside the apartment, Sonic found himself confused and unsure of what he was meant to do, merely standing still and looking around as the bat put the emerald in with the rest of her stash of glowing objects.

She looked back at him and groaned, “Well don’t just stand there, take a seat! Is there something wrong with my apartment?”

“No, no way, nothing’s wrong here,” was all Sonic said in response as he took a seat. His eyes were no longer half-lidded, it seemed, as the bat’s company seemed to awaken the hedgehog at least somewhat.

The soft lights of the bat’s government-provided ‘home’ made for cozy-enough surroundings, contrasting with the bat’s own uncharacteristically-sharp temper… though, the hedgehog realized, perhaps he wasn’t one to talk about not acting like one’s usual self.

Rouge took the seat opposite the hedgehog’s and spent a moment just sitting there, lost in her thoughts. Sonic tried to do the same, for his part, finding some success shortly before being unceremoniously yanked back into reality with a question, “Is it just me, or are we the only ones who still care about what happened?”

Sonic blinked, “Um… I don’t know what you’re talking abou—” but before he could finish his sentence, he could feel the bat see right through his lie. Sighing, he started again, “I really don’t know… maybe, yeah…”

“That sounds like three answers to me, big blue,” Rouge remarked, to the hedgehog’s embarrassment, and subsequent curiosity at the new nickname. “You don’t know, then maybe we’re the only ones who care, and then yeah we are,” she gently mocked the hedgehog’s indecision.

A chuckle found its way into the hedgehog, coming out through a weak grin as he responded, “Okay, okay… If anyone else still thinks about it, they sure don’t let it show, that’s for sure…”

“Knuckles wouldn’t even talk to me about it,” Rouge sighed, “sure he didn’t know Shadow as well as I did, but he didn’t have to get so frustrated with me when I only wanted someone to talk to about this…”

Letting out a tired sigh, Sonic replied, “No, probably not…” Sonic thought back to how friends had reacted to him trying to talk about Shadow, when he remembered… he hadn’t. He really hadn’t said a word about it to anyone he was close to. Because, he reasoned with himself, they just weren’t who he needed to talk to, right then. Suddenly, the hedgehog felt a thought inside, “Then who?

Before he could interrogate the thought, Rouge pulled him out of his head as she asked, “Have you tried talking to him?” When the hedgehog took an uncharacteristically long time to respond, the bat pressed, “Well? You’re friends with that echidna, aren’t you?” Sonic shook his head. “What about that fox boy? Or that pink hedgehog?” More silence, as the hedgehog shook his head once more, his emerald gaze glued to the carpet. “Oh for crying out loud, you must have tried talking to someone about this!”

The hedgehog shifted awkwardly, caught off-guard by the question. “I guess I don’t talk to people when I feel like this… not until now, anyway,” he answered, uncomfortably. There was no remark back from the bat in the face of this, he was unable to read her reaction to the whole thing as he continued to look away from her. Gently, in an effort to change the subject, the hedgehog offered, “I’m sorry he got that way.

“Knuckles, I mean,” he clarified, “he can be rude sometimes but he really does care.” When he looked back up at her, she seemed skeptical, but the hedgehog remained firm, “You can try talking to him later…”

Curiously, she asked, “How do you know he cares?” Not a moment later, the hedgehog’s face sank and he tensed up. “Wait, were you supposed to mention that he cares?” She inquired, an unlikely smirk growing on her face as her mischievous side got the best of her.

Panicking a little, Sonic attempted to save face. “W-well, I mean, I only assumed…” but when her smile left her face once more, the hedgehog knew he couldn’t keep it up. “Okay…” he admitted, “he mentioned you a lot during that last adventure. I don’t know if he wanted me saying so, so if that could just stay between us…?”

“I can keep a secret,” Rouge said, before a sly grin grew on her face as she asked, “What did he say about me?”

With the worry of getting his butt handed to him by the echidna dispelled, the hedgehog comfortably answered, “Well, he said you were an amazing treasure hunter, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and that he wished you weren’t trying to steal the master emerald so maybe you and him could try getting along…” Sonic thought about what he had said for a moment, before joking, “I mean, sure, that last part hasn’t really worked out so far…”

A soft giggle escaped the bat’s glossy lips, which the hedgehog took pride in. He wasn’t a comedian, but he liked to think he was good at being funny anyway. Growing a little more serious, shortly after, Sonic assured her, “He just gets nervous around new people. Once you two get to know each other, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more loyal friend.”

Rouge seemed happy to hear the hedgehog’s words, which was nice, Sonic thought. If nothing else, he got to help someone, that night, to some extent. “What about me being beautiful?” Rouge asked, breaking the hedgehog out of his thoughts once more, “You think he’s right, don’t you?”

Their eyes met, locking briefly, before Sonic broke the eye contact and shifted his gaze elsewhere, blushing profusely. He found a digital clock that electronically-displayed the time, ‘8:14 PM,’ which surprised the hedgehog, as it hadn’t felt like it had been that long. When he looked back to where the bat once was, he was startled to realize that she had left her seat, nowhere to be found in his immediate vision.

He got up and looked around, only to be tapped on the shoulder from behind. He turned around and found the bat standing upside-down on the ceiling, her eyes locked on his. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Sonic could feel his temperature rising, looking into the smirking bat’s eyes. Was this that feeling, again? Sonic wondered, but his eyelids grew heavier when he saw the twinkle of the ring bracelet in his peripheral vision. “Rouge…” sighed the hedgehog, the name sounding as unfamiliar coming out of his lips as she herself was to him, “I’m really tired…” As though he had reminded her of the same, the bat’s gaze grew tired as well.

Nonetheless, he felt a little guilty. She was only teasing, after all, and perhaps it would do them both better to take their minds off of their mutual friend, just as the others had. Forming a smirk, catching her attention once more, Sonic added, “But, since you asked so nicely, I think he was wrong - you’re actually the most beautiful girl in the entire world.

This time it was the bat’s turn to be startled, as the hedgehog’s answer was much more flirtatious than she had expected to get out of him. “I can’t say I disagree, so I guess I’ll just thank you, handsome,” she responded with a smile, before gracefully reorienting herself right-side-up. They lingered there for a moment longer, both wondering what the other was thinking about, before Rouge moved to pick up the TV remote. Sonic took the cue to sit on the couch facing the TV, being joined by the bat shortly after.

Hours passed. They leisurely went from channel to channel, watching a few minutes of each program for the sake of it, before coming upon a speech of the President’s, which elicited Sonic’s request, “Hey, hold on, I wanna see this one.” Rouge complied, not caring too much either way, and watched her boss’s speech with the hedgehog.

“I knew Shadow the Hedgehog,” the President said, authoritatively, “he was a close friend of mine.” The hedgehog could hear it clearly enough through the bat’s speakers, but he still couldn’t believe it. Rouge, for her part, wasn’t at all surprised by the President lying his ass off, but she could understand the hedgehog’s bafflement. The man in the TV proceeded to lie some more, while sounding utterly convinced of his words, before a roaring applause erupted in the audience.

Utterly deadpan, Sonic smirked, “Great guy, Shadow would’ve loved this.” Rouge let out a subdued giggle, imagining some of the president’s stuffy ‘patriotic’ stooges being present to hear such mockery. “Okay, I take what I said back, let’s watch… literally anything else,” Sonic suggested, moving on to another channel that was currently televising a soap opera.

It was quite remarkable, watching the show. Did humans just like having their biases confirmed in comically-outlandish situations where everyone acts like jerks? This was the most Sonic could figure from observing the soap opera, watching each character fulfill their gender roles and stereotypes, reciting the same words they told one another repeatedly in a way one could only describe as religious.

“Speaking of things Shadow would’ve loved,” Sonic started, “… this isn’t one either, this is terrible.”

Despite its horrendous quality, they continued to watch it anyway. There was, indeed, something to the formula they had cooked up - being guided through a character’s bland story through its ups and downs, taking the viewer through the entire emotional rollercoaster of an event some may even find relatable… Then, Rouge said, “I hate this.”

The protagonist of the story had just given in and done what her parents had wanted her to, which the show depicted as a sign of maturity. “Just when this show seems like it might let the girl have a spine, she backs down because she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents by being something they didn’t want her to be. Predictable, as always,” she sighed, before leaving the TV remote and walking off.

Looking off to where she had walked, Sonic found the bat gazing outside her window with her arms crossed. After quickly turning off the TV, Sonic got up and started to say, “Yeah… forget that show, don’t even worry about it. I bet no one likes it, anyway.”

Without so much as turning to look back at him, Rouge responded, “It’s on its fourth season,”

“I—whoa, what, really?” Sonic reacted, startled, eliciting a tired sigh from the bat. “Well… that doesn’t matter. You know how you feel, and no one can take that away from you,” he consoled the bat.

Appearing to grow more tired with the hedgehog’s words with each sentence, Rouge sighed, “That’s not what’s upsetting me. I know I can be me, I know I’m allowed to, I just wish someone would make me feel good about being me. I want being me to be a good thing.”

Before another thought could cross either of the two’s minds, Sonic blurted out, “you’re good.”

Regarding the hedgehog’s words rather dismissively, Rouge sarcastically replied, “Thanks.” It felt to Rouge like Sonic had said it more out of a need to be polite than out of any strong belief in it.

Nevertheless, Sonic continued, “Rouge… you really are good, I mean it. I might not know you that well… but I know you’re being yourself, not letting others tell you to be something else… and I can’t say I don’t respect that, because… that’s me, too.”

Intrigued, Rouge listened as he continued.

“I could probably stand to adjust my attitude, I’m sure I’d be more like the role-model people seem to want me to be if I was at all interested in settling down and having a kid and a picket fence, and… I mean, wearing more than gloves and shoes wouldn’t hurt either, I bet,” he started, adding the last part half-seriously. Rouge’s frown softened, but still remained. “But I wouldn’t be me anymore, if I went and did all that. I can’t let people decide who I’m gonna be any more than you can, or… or any more than Shadow could,” he admitted.

Rouge only got more confused, as she asked, “Why are you telling me any of this? Is it because you feel bad for me? Like I’m just a weak little woman who needs a man to rescue me from my woman emotions?

Her confusion proved contagious, as Sonic himself didn’t fully understand what he was saying or why he was still there. In spite of that fact, Sonic stated simply, hearing it for the first time just as Rouge did, “It’s not like that at all…

“I’m here, I’m saying all this, because… I know it sucks to lose him. It sucks to not be able to do anything about it, and it fucking sucks to feel all alone feeling all this, but it’s not just you,” he told her, “and maybe it can suck a little less if you know it isn’t just you, I don’t know.” It was what he never realized he needed to hear, himself, and it was all he had to give to the bat.

Something happened, then—though neither one could quite explain it. Rouge pulled the sapphire speedster into an embrace she hadn’t known was in her, and they stayed there for awhile longer. It wasn’t that they had gotten back what they had lost, neither one could say if they would ever again have the piece of themselves that Shadow took with him when he ‘passed,’ but… something new was found, in the wake of it all.

3:45 AM. Sonic was still at Rouge’s. The whole night had felt surreal, yet that’s what it had taken to help them. Rouge had gone to rest in her bed, while Sonic crashed on her couch for the night. It still hurt in Sonic’s chest, just as it did in Rouge’s, just as it would long after that night. Now, at least, they weren’t hurting alone.

The End

Originally-published on June 2, 2018

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