A sigh in the wind.
That's all any of it was any more... A sigh in the wind, an echo of something that happened before. The ARK, the desert base, the shards of the master emerald... It wasn't that long ago, but still it seemed like a million years had passed.
Rouge kicked her feet in the cold desert air, sending sand flying from the soles of her boots. Somewhere in the distance, although not that far away, some kids from Station Square were having a party in Robotnik's former base. Initially the treasure hunter had come out to get out of the house, out of the office, out of the mindset of treasure hunter and spy... but those mindsets were not the problem; the chains that bound her were of a much less productive sort.
The encounters she had had with the other five individuals involved had been brief and violent. Double crosses, hidden motivations, all sorts of things had made everything complicated and bitter, but exciting and passionate... Somehow, Rouge found herself harboring toward these people a dangerous and harmful feeling, the kind of emotion that poisoned a person from the inside until they were a slobbering, raging shadow (or Shadow) of their former selves.
That wasn't to say that the bat was in love with two hedgehogs, a fox, an echidna, and a human... On the contrary, Rouge found herself feeling a strange sort of warmth toward each of them in turn, the kind of love that jealousy and fear cannot take away. And that bothered her. She couldn't be attached to these people, or anyone. She was a spy; feelings got in the way. She had made a mistake, and now she was paying for it, with, of all things, having to miss them.
Of course, as in all such situations, some were more cherished than others. Rouge's affections toward the good Doctor, for example, consisted mostly of dispassionate pity, and she wanted to keep it that way... and while Sonic and Tails were certainly fun to flirt with, they weren't exactly what she would consider close friends. No, of the six, only two had really earned her heart, in a platonic sort of way.
She felt tears welling up in her eye as she thought of it... Barring her pride, she could go and visit Sonic, Tails, the Eggman, or even Knuckles anytime... But she couldn't go to see Shadow.
And she didn't want to either, really, not all that much. He was at peace now. She was sure of it. He'd found his destiny, he'd found rest, and that's what the poor thing needed. No one would persecute him anymore, no one would use and abuse him anymore, no one would look at him as anything less than the hero that he was. He was free.
"So where does that leave the rest of us?" she asked herself, lying back on the platform. She missed Shadow's company. She missed his stability. Although he was an enigma... she always either knew what to expect from him, or was pleasantly surprised. He was a rock in an otherwise shaky world; his friendship was as solid and unchanging as his sneering face. And now he was gone...
And Knuckles was guarding the Master Emerald on Angel Island. Even if she did try to drop in, she would be chased off as quickly as she had arrived-after all, why would Rouge the Treasure Hunter be there except to steal the damn thing? Knuckles would be merciless, because all he cared about was the Emerald. His duty was to guard the island, guard the Master Emerald, fight the dragon, whatever. That boy was all about duty... Rouge had no idea why he and Sonic were friends, though she was vaguely aware that they had once been enemies...
The thought made her smile. Sonic had been his enemy, and was now his friend. Maybe if he could find a place in his heart for Sonic.. then perhaps the icy cold monotreme could find a place for her too.
She shook her head. She scarcely understood why she cared so much about someone she had battled so viciously. Perhaps it was because they were equals in their treasure hunting prowess, well-matched and complementary. He had been one of few who could even compare to her, and she had always been excited by challenge. But it was more than that. There was a quality to his wit that made him all the more her equal, and there was that strange shimmer in his eyes, like a longing even he was unaware of. Her years of watching people had cursed her with an unfortunate ability to see into the hearts of men and monotremes alike, and she seemed to be alone in seeing that he was lonely.
And yet he would never concede loneliness. He would never offer his heart to anyone, platonically or otherwise, unless they did something so great he could not honorably deny it... and she had done nothing of the sort. And she could never concede to him, either-how could the great treasure hunter stoop to such a kindergarten level as to ask someone to be her friend?
Of course, she knew this elaborate dance quite well, having danced it so many times before. She was fully aware that she was refusing to acknowledge the crux of the issue, the very thing that had brought her out to these ruins tonight and the very thing that would draw her out to the Dry Lagoon as the party drew to the close. She knew that she was in love with him and she knew that she wasn't accepting it. And she knew that even if she allowed herself to feel that stupid, dangerous emotion, he would deny her. Why bother? She'd get over him in a couple months, like she had with all the others. No big deal. But for now, it was painful, to know that he would never love her-if not as a partner, then even as a friend. That was all she really wanted anymore-a friend as loyal as Shadow, but as equal as Knuckles. And she couldn't even have that, and thus neither would he.
"So where does that leave us," she repeated, sighing again.
"Right here, I guess."
Letting a startled cry, the bat somersaulted to her feet and turned around. Behind her, a short figure stood, shrouded in shadows.
"What are you doing here?"
"Can't you do that by your Master Emerald?"
"Not all the time. Can't guard it while I'm crazy."
As he stepped into the light, Rouge looked her friendly nemesis over. He seemed thinner than before and the longing in his violet eyes seemed greater. She suspected that he detected the exact same changes in her. They were alike in so many ways, including the knowledge of their respective stubborn pride. "Can't you find somewhere else to reflect?"
"I could. But I wanted to argue with someone."
"What kind of game is this?"
"The same kind of game that you play, bat girl." He stepped up to her, getting entirely too close. She could feel his hot breath on her face, and the scent of fresh fruit hit her as hard as his fist had at another encounter. "You win."
She took a step back, startled; her heel caught nothing but air. "What are you talking about?"
"You want the Master Emerald, right? Share it with me. You and and I are equals... And even though I'm the Guardian of the Emerald... I can't do it forever, and I can't do it alone."
"So this is a business proposition."
"No, it's not. It's a plea, Rouge. Be with me. Be my girlfriend, be my wife, be my something."
She shook her head. "Knuckles, you're not yourself."
"I haven't been myself. I don't even know who myself is. I just know that whoever I am, I like him better when you're around."
"What are you playing at?"
"The same thing that you have. Or am I just another guy you've lead on? Just... another previous gem for you to steal and throw away when you're done with it?"
Rouge looked down. "No, Knuckles, you're not."
"Then say what you've been meaning."
She looked up at his face, watching his eyes. "I love you, Knuckles," she offered, watching new light emerge from the soft purple of his eyes. "But no."
Turning away so as not to see the darkness that was about to overtake him, she spread her wings and began to glide away... Knowing with a heavy heart that she was a treasure that he would pursue no further.
Sign up to rate and review this story