i bet on losing dogs - gayemeralds - Sonic the Hedgehog (2023)

“Mama! It’s you!”

Rouge’s chubby finger points excitedly at the lady on the screen. It’s her mother’s biggest role yet- a five second blurb on a popular hero franchise where she checks the hero into a hotel. It’s simple, swift, a blink and you miss it sort of moment, but those are the usual roles her mother manages to squeeze into.

It’s not that she lacks talent; she often laments that she lacks opportunity and timing. Rouge comes to learn, however, that people weren’t particularly invested in a woman of average beauty, or less than average income. Especially in industries that expect flawless skin, perfect fur, and bountiful youth.

But right now, Rouge is six years old, charmed by seeing her mother on the screen, while she sits on the sofa, amused by Rouge’s antics.

“You helped the heroes!” Rouge cheers. “Now they can go fight the bad guy!”

“Baby,” her mother says, and it’s the sort of tone mothers have when they’re about to impart a message you’ll carry for the rest of your life. It might not be a good message, and it might not even be intentional, but it sticks like honey, and Rouge has already turned her head to peer back at her mother, who looks every bit the haggard yet charming film star in the making. “If there’s one thing you need to learn, it’s that heroes don’t really exist.”

Rouge frowns. “What?”

“People like Captain Danger-“ Her manicured finger points at the dashing young Golden Retriever, with windswept fur and dazzling blue eyes- “don’t truly exist. These are stories people tell, to make themselves or others feel better. But when danger strikes, when you find yourself in a time of need, the only person that can help you, baby, is yourself.”

Rouge climbs onto the sofa to clamber into her mother’s lap. She helps her half way, settling her onto her thighs, Rouge facing her mother, peering thoughtfully into her eyes, adorned in makeup Rouge isn’t old enough to play with yet. There’s wrinkles beginning to sprout between her eyes, a few crows feet lingering around her mouth, and Rouge learns another factor will begin to discriminate against her mother soon- age, many find, is the antithesis of beauty. And no director wants their up and coming starlet to be older than the leading male, or any less beautiful than a newborn rose.

“Heroes don’t exist. What exists are every day, normal people. And normal people are cowards. They’ll freeze in the face of danger, they’ll stand by when others are hurt, they’ll run away to save their own skin. It’s every man for himself, Rouge. The world is not as kind as the movies make it out to be. It’s an innate part of our beings to be selfish.”

Rouge frowns, and peers back at the screen. Captain Danger seeks out the man who kidnapped the charming young reporter he was enamored with in his civilian life. Isn’t that selfish? Would he save her if he wasn’t attracted to her?

“It’s through no fault of our own. So don’t blame others for wanting to save their own skin, alright, honey? Everyone does it, it’s just our nature. But just don’t count on heroes, okay?”

Rouge looks back at the screen, watching the final battle unfold.

“There’s just no such thing as a hero.”

-

The first time Rouge encounters G.U.N. is long before she’s hired by them.

In fact, she’s nine years old, mooching off an old woman. She’s been developing her pick-pocketing technique, inspired by a street performer she had watched while her mother was auditioning. A mime, he was, who dazzled the children with a show that nearly distracted her, as he stole wallets and jewelry from unsuspecting parents.

Rouge was currently trying to pull off her own heist; after a few successful attempts over the past year (and many more chases by the police), she’s begun to recognize how to steal, and more importantly, who to steal from. The old woman she was helping wore dazzling furs and glimmering jewelry; she was frazzled, having forgotten her chauffeur was on break, and oblivious to her surroundings when she tripped over a punk’s skateboard.

Rouge swiftly intervened, offering to help her carry her groceries, eyeing the rings on her finger, the dangling pocket watch in her skirt, the darling necklaces draping across her silk shirts. And the old woman happily gave her ten bags to content herself with while she gripped on the phone with her chauffeur, and Rouge’s hands did not remain idle as they traveled.

By the end of the trip, Rouge had snatched three rings, two necklaces, and that dazzling little pocket watch. She’ll likely sell the watch- she isn’t interested in precious metals, only precious gemstones, and perhaps she might buy herself some candy for a deed done good (though perhaps not a good deed done). Her mother has been encouraging her thievery- the rich steal from the poor; why bother playing arbitrary rules when you can change the game altogether?

She’s skipping back to her house, excitedly imagining the amount of candy bars she might be able to find, when she spots a G.U.N. truck parked on the corner of a street. Rouge knows well and good to steer clear of any institution; especially anything affiliated with the government.

But she’s nine years old, and curious why the truck is parked outside of her favorite restaurant. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but what about nosy little bats?

She tiptoes inside. The door was left open, the bell’s usual jingle halted before it could sing. The building is silent as a grave; not a patron sits in sight.

She slips in further, and then she finally hears them; chattering voices fill the hall, and she peeks inside, finding a break room occupied. Two G.U.N. agents sit across from the owner of the restaurant, an older cat who appears awfully at ease amongst men with guns on their hips and daggers in their eyes.

“We’ve heard you’ve been dealing more than just poker spreads around here,” one of the agents says.

“Perhaps you’ve heard about the great deals on my pizza? They’re the talk of the town, right now.”

“Arms dealing,” the other agent answers, not interested in beating around the bush, it seems. “Particularly, related to alien investigations and weaponry. Have you ever heard of the Black Arms scare forty years ago?”

“An interesting accusation. Is there evidence to support your claim? I’m not particularly interested in petty rumors, you know. Even old gossips like me want a little meat on their bones.”

A file is settled on the table. The cat picks through it, his cool demeanor never changing, and appears almost less impressed than before at whatever evidence the men present. “Is this all?”

“Three witnesses at our beck and call.”

“A bluff. But quite ballsy, I’ll give you that. So what price should I pay?”

The men peer at each other, a silent conversation, before one answers, “20 thousand.”

A snort. “For this evidence? Ten. For both of you to split.”

“Ten for each of us.”

“Eight each. Any higher and I’d be better off paying lawyer fees.”

“Deal.”

The men shake hands. The cat leans back in his seat. “I’ll have the money given to you by Tuesday. See you then.”

Rouge ducks into the nearest room when the men begin to retreat. The freezer is bone chilling, but she doesn’t dare move a muscle until the thundering boot steps have faded to a silence more stifling than drowning. She hears the chair scrape in the next room, and the heavy foot falls of the old cat.

“Darling Rouge, come on out.”

Caught! Rouge needs to up her stealth, it seems. Or perhaps the old man has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

She hesitantly opens the freezer. The cat’s leaning against the doorway of the room she watched the deal take place in, appearing smug at the sight of her. “Still got a few more years before I go senile. I thought I saw you sneaking around. The only thing worse than a spy is one who gets caught.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Kids like you have a few life lessons they gotta learn. I wish I could teach you to stick your nose in less places, but something tells me that’s a lesson that won’t stick. So I’ll teach you something else.” He slips a carton of cigarettes out of his pocket. He pulls one out, and hands it to her. Rouge’s brows twist; Mama always said not to smoke- it tends to age people poorly. And there’s health side effects, apparently. “Ha, don’t give me that face, kiddo. It’s a candy cigarette.”

He takes the one he was holding and bites it in half. Rouge laughs and takes the offer, munching on the sugary treat as the old cat leans back. “You want some advice, kiddo? Learn how to bargain.”

Rouge’s brows furrow. “What do you mean?”

“When you spy, when you steal, there’s always a chance you’ll get caught. It’s unavoidable, really- a perfect heist simply doesn’t exist. You make a plan, and it’s bound to go off the rails. You gotta adapt. So you’ve got two choices when you get caught: you lie, or you bargain. And people don’t like it when you lie. You can’t always prove something is true. And if you can’t prove that it’s true, people automatically think it’s false, even if they can’t prove that, either.“

He twirls the candy cigarette in his fingers. “Denial can only get you so far. When evidence is presented, you can’t feign ignorance. You can’t tell a grand story to cover your tracks- it makes you even more suspicious. So when things aren’t going your way, you cut your losses. You bargain. You give them something they want, in return for something you want. You saw everything that just happened, didn’t you? Nosy little thing.”

Rouge frowns at his words, but he doesn’t seem to mind. “You saw what I did. They had evidence. Clearly, they were bluffing a bit on their own end- they didn’t actually have three witnesses, even if they did have some stellar photographic evidence. And that’s what this game is really about- bargaining and bluffing. And the best kind of bargain, is one filled with bluffing. You might not gain much, but you won’t lose much, either. You stay calm, you stay cool, and you don’t meet their demands- you make them meet yours. That’s a bargain. That’s how you stay safe.” He waves absently to the G.U.N. truck speeding by. “I gave them less than what they demanded, but more than they really thought they’d get. That’s how you win, kid.”

“I won’t need to do that,” Rouge decides. Rouge doesn’t enjoy the idea of giving up anything, for anyone. She’s nine, after all (though it’s a trait that sticks until the day she dies). “I’m gonna be the best spy there ever was.”

She’s already pretty great, if she can toot her own horn for a bit. She always beats the neighborhood kids at hide and seek, she spies on every adult conversation she can find (she’s learned a lot of dirty secrets to leer over her friend’s parents to get what she wants) and she’s the absolute best when playing secret agents. She’s nine and she’s unstoppable. She can only get better from here, and she’s already pretty dang good.

“I like the confidence, kid. But when you’ve played cards like I have, you know you’ll eventually get a bad hand. And that’s what makes you a good spy. You know when to fold, and you know when to bluff.”

He hands her another stick of candy and starts to push her out the door. “Take it or leave it, I can promise you it’s advice that never leaves you stranded. Now get out there and cause some problems for other old folks, alright? I’ve got some finances to settle.”

Rouge is halfway out the door when he adds, “Oh, and everything that happened today? You didn’t see that, right?”

Rouge considers his words, then sends him a grin filled with fangs. “Some free pizzas would really help my memory.”

He smirks. “Atta girl.”

(The old man lives longer than some of Rouge’s own friends. The man’s a survivor, Rouge can give him that. G.U.N. agents and other enemies knock at his door on a weekly basis, but the man doesn’t ever budge.)

(No one attends his funeral, however.)

-

Turning fourteen turns out to be a very big year for Rouge.

Rouge manages to steal from a large jewelry retailer with stunning success. Turns out, Rouge’s affinity for all things glimmering doesn’t fade with time- it in fact amplifies. Rouge has all sorts of jewels tucked away in her humble abode, treasures she’ll never seek to sell. Her mother finds her treasure hoarding amusing, and Rouge can admit, to herself only, it might have gotten a bit excessive. She’s beginning to run out of space.

But at the same time, it’s simply not enough.

There’s billions and trillions of dazzling little delicacies just waiting for Rouge to rescue them, to admire them and cherish them and hold on to them until the day she dies. The world is full of beautiful gemstones, full of stupid rich folk who can’t protect them, and Rouge makes the easy connection that she might be able to fix that.

When she’s fourteen, she leans away from picking pockets and bumming rich folk. She sets her eyes on the bigger prizes, on the larger hauls, on the all you can eat buffets. Jewelry stores, as it turns out, are impeccably easy for a nosy, rapacious young child who’s spent their days blending into the shadows, who can fly, who can brute force locks with a spinning kick. It’s even easier when you’ve learned how to charm your way out of unflattering scenarios; Rouge thanks her mama for having good genes and better acting skills to teach.

It’s a Tiffany Ox store that she first burgles, filled to the brim with tasty delights. There are ruby strawberries, emerald pears, amethyst grapes, tourmaline watermelons, sapphire blueberries, citrine bananas, and all sorts of opalescent candies. It’s a full course meal of pure, avarice ambrosia. It’s a feast, and Rouge is feeling particularly gluttonous that night.

It’s easy to snatch up all the delicacies in an old pillowcase and make haste into the night. It’s so terribly easy to take what she wants, when she wants, however she wants, and Rouge is giddy with the feeling. This is more than just stealing from rich folks' back pockets, this is more than being a neighborhood nuisance, and Rouge knows that this will be the first of many nights spent in the shadows of the dark, plundering dazzling mines of precious gemstones.

The gemstones glimmer in the lights of her room. She wears them on occasion, dancing about, eager to have gotten such a haul with such little work. A day’s planning was all it took; scoping out the building’s floor plan, hacking into security feeds, and tricking a couple of guards was like child’s play. If Rouge had known it was this easy to get what she wanted- well, she would have done this years ago.

Unfortunately, this mean’s Rouge’s appetite can no longer be settled by an easy purse snatching or wallet theft. This means Rouge is dreaming bigger, this means Rouge is no longer invested in appetizers but full course meals. Her appetite has expanded, her metabolism burning, and Rouge knows there is no turning back.

There’s no going back to being a petty thief. Rouge is going to make it big, she decides, in the way her mother never could as an actress. This was her calling, a career, if you must, and Rouge knew she could take this talent to new heights. Who was going to stop her?

She’s on top of the world, when she’s fourteen, and there’s only one small hiccup.

Her fifth time burglarizing, the summer after her birthday…

She’s caught in the act.

Stealing from G.U.N. may not have been her brightest move, in retrospect. But she was caught up in the absolute euphoria of the heist, that she forgot about one thing; those G.U.N. pricks were terribly nosy. And terribly paranoid.

Which means there’s now a gun pointed at her face as she attempts to make off with the smuggled goods G.U.N. had snatched from an illegal exotic pet trade (and that’s one circle of crime Rouge can never wrap her mind around; who’s willing to pay a fortune to own a weird, icky animal? Just go to the zoo!). Her bag is filled to the brim with blue diamonds and emeralds and rubies and alexandrites when the soldier spies her.

Ugh! She had been so quiet, too! It was just pure luck on his end.

“Halt!” He shouts, and she almost doesn’t stifle the laugh that threatens to burst from her mouth. People really say that? “Put the bag down right now.”

The good thing is, G.U.N. tends to keep the people they hired local to where they’re from. Perhaps because they tend to know the area better than anyone else. It’s a pity for them, however, because Rouge recognises this clown. A friend of a friend’s brother who she’s spied on a thousand times before; what can she say? She loves a good story, even if it doesn’t do her any good.

Seems it just might, however.

“Private Ryan?” She croons. “Fancy seeing you here!”

“Do I know you?” Just recruited, then. She’s learned that soldier boys don’t like small talk, especially when they’re talking to criminals.

“Nails the Bat? Doesn’t ring any bells? Ugh, how rude!”

“How rude?! Who’s stealing right now?”

“And who’s cheating on their wife with her sister? I find that a little more rude.”

Truth be, Rouge wasn’t sure if he was still doing that. The anger rushing through his eyes tells her he definitely is. “What- how did you-“

“Let me leave, and I won’t tell a soul.” She picks at her nails, playing calm and cool despite the tension in her shoulders. “Your wife might pay a pretty penny for some funny pictures I found of you. Or who knows, I might give them for free.”

His lip curls. Oh, she might have overstayed her welcome. She stays still, and lets him process.

“Leave the bag,” he decides.

“Oh, fine!” She dumps the contents of the bag back into the truck. They spill across the floor, and she picks up a particularly alluring tanzanite. “Why not take something for yourself, while you’re at it?”

He catches the jewel and Rouge rushes past him, wings outstretched, kicking his back as she sails into the sky. Her heart races as she makes her grand escape, and she flies for miles before she lets herself sink on top of a skyscraper, leering over the dazzling city below. Huffing, she plops down and digs through her pocket, finding a blue diamond pendant. Well, at least it wasn’t a total loss.

But the thrill of the chase is almost as alluring as the gems themselves. The next heist, Rouge leaves a cute little card with a lipstick stain on it.

(Private Ryan gets caught with the tanzanite; his girlfriend breaks up with him. The rumors spread about his infidelity probably didn’t help.)

-

Rouge is planning her next big heist when the unthinkable happens.

Dr. Robotnik, a failed and disgraced teacher, decided to abandon his career and pursue total dictatorship of the world. Rouge will be sure to remind her mom to vote for pay increases for teachers in the next local election.

Dr. Robotnik, a prodigy inventor, developed a machine that can turn small living organisms into living batteries. With this machine, Dr. Robotnik sought to create an army of evil robots- called Badniks, how cute- that would help overpower entire nations and establish his regime. He sounds like a laughable sci-fi caricature of a mad scientist, but it turns out his threats are very, very real.

The man conquers South Island, ruling over it with an iron fist as he creates his fortress, a stronghold of maliciousness and insane science experiments. G.U.N. forces begin to encroach on the location to stop Robotnik, but someone else beats them to the punch.

Rouge and her mother gather around their television to watch a blue streak speed across the screen. The newscasters appear bewildered by the sight, frantically trying to get a better shot of what they just saw. The camera swerves and shakes, and the sounds of explosions echo as the newscasters scramble to follow what they’re seeing.

When the camera focuses, the dozens of Badniks they had on screen were suddenly crushed to pieces. Animal friends sat in the middle of the robotic remains, appearing just as baffled as the newscasters. “Hey, look over there!”

The camera shifts again. At the very top of a high hill in Green Hill Zone was a hedgehog the color of a glimmering topaz, short and stubby, appearing contemplative as he stared out into the horizon. His eyes squinted, spotting something, and he raced off, a streak of blue echoing across the pixels.

That was Sonic the Hedgehog’s first public appearance, as far as the public knows. Rouge later learns that he and Robotnik had scuffled a few times before, but this day in history marks the beginning of a new era. Robotnik has perfected his ability to create devastating machines and pollution synthesizing factories.

Most of all, however, this adventure reigns in something even more important.

The Chaos Emeralds.

Sonic’s already collected three by the time the general public learns of their appearance. The news stations are enamored by this hero racing in to save the day, fascinated by a quaint little hedgehog who glimmers like a dazzling aquamarine as he decimates machines and frees the enslaved animals. Breaking news remains on air for two days, all filled with coverage of the South Island incident, as it’s later called.

A camera spots Sonic suddenly materializing into thin air in Spring Yard Zone, holding three emeralds in his hands. They glimmer in the light of the sun peeking between the clouds of smog; they were larger than the size of Sonic’s palms, and seemed to radiate an intense energy. The camera even glitches out once or twice as it tries to focus on the strange items.

“You don’t think…” Scarlet Garcia’s voice is strained. “Could those be… the legendary Chaos emeralds?”

Rouge has heard of these, of course. Everyone has heard of the mythical Chaos Emeralds, the gems of miracles, said to grant a wish to anyone who manages to collect them all. There were seven of them, the folklore says. Six lesser emeralds, and one emerald to rule over them. A Master Emerald, they proclaim, which disappeared along with the echidnas. They were gems of power, of fortune, of godhood, and were rumored to have been the downfall of hundreds of civilizations, casting the Babylons from their home, and causing the echidnas to go extinct. They made fantastic bedtime stories for rowdy little kids.

But that’s all they were: bedtime stories for children, fun pieces of folklore to look back on fondly. They were a myth to bring hope to the hopeless, to send treasure hunters on wild goose chases, and to fill the minds of rambunctious children with the woes of greed and ambition. They were chronicles from an old world, a world without science or an understanding of the phenomenons around them, and had been cast aside as a legend from fools.

And now here they were, tucked into the arms of a chubby, scrawny little hedgehog who now seems to be the only person who can stop a mad scientist from destroying the world.

Rouge is glued to the screen, her perception of the world forever altered. Those gems are real, and Rouge knows she has to some day get her hands on them. She has to find them all, not for money or power or wishes; simply pleasure, pure vanity. Those were the greatest gems a treasure hunter could ever lay their paws on, and Rouge knew, knew in the deepest cavern of her heart, that she was going to have to find them.

If a pudgy little kid could collect them, surely the up and coming greatest thief in the world could do so, too?

Sonic appears to collect six of them by the time he finds Robotnik’s fortress. Sonic goes rushing in, not daring to stop and look back, not daring to even slow down at the arrival of the foreboding fortress, and all of the newscasters hold their breath, waiting for the news that Sonic is dead, that the world is doomed. He’s just a little kid, after all, and perhaps it had been foolish to bank all of their hopes on this strange little stranger.

It’s an hour before there’s any changes. An explosion rattles the small island, the fortress exploding in a scintillating fire and a thunderous boom. The fortress becomes consumed by fire, decimated to ashes, scraps of metal and embers covering the surrounding land like a blanket of glimmering snow, and in the very far distance, a lone figure is seen flying off. “It looks like Dr. Robotnik is escaping! Hopefully, the surrounding G.U.N. forces can capture him!”

(Shockingly, they do not.)

“But this begs the question: Where could the little hedgehog be?”

Silence rings across the screen. The camera holds steady, hopeful, as they wait for a sign of life.

And a sign they are given.

A blue streak darts out of the fortress, speeding through the entire island in half a minute. He’s back in Green Hill Zone, right back at the beginning, and animal friends begin to crowd around him when he finally stops. He grins, fangs sharp and glimmering, petting a few of the animals that dare draw near with hands so strangely tender after ripping apart monstrous machines, until the emeralds in his hands suddenly begin glowing; they leap out of his hands, and in a brilliant flash of white, they suddenly disappear.

Sonic appears confused, staring up at the sky. The newscasters suddenly gasp. “Look! The beauty of the island seems to have been restored! The pollution- it’s all gone!”

Shots of various zones flitter across the screen. The foliage and fauna of the zones appears to have returned, flowers blossoming, green smeared across the screen, animals slowly returning to their humble abodes.

By the time the reporters focus back on Sonic, he’s long gone, already chasing his next adventure.

The breaking news finally ends, and the world is left to wonder about all it’s seen. An evil dictator, and legend become reality, and a small little hedgehog right in the center of it all.

Her mother scoffs as the screen shifts to a new report, and the G.U.N. commander moves to make a statement about the incident. Rogue just can’t believe her eyes.

“Was that real?” She can’t help asking. “Did we really just see a real life superhero?”

“You can’t really think he’s a hero, honey. He just did the job those foolish government agents should’ve been doing.”

“And you don’t find that at all heroic?”

“Heroism stems from selflessness. Saving the island you live on isn’t heroic. It’s the same as trying to stop a house fire in your own home. He lives there, of course he’s going to want to keep it safe. If that idiotic failed dictator conquered the island, he’d lose his freedom, and probably his ability and space to run as fast as he likes. That’s not heroic. That’s simply saving your own skin.” She leans back and closes her eyes. “Besides, he let the old man get away, didn’t he?”

“We don’t know that-”

“He’s an adventure seeker, you can tell. He let the old man go so he’ll have another adventure. There’s no shame in that, you know. It’s an awfully dull life we live. Perhaps this excitement might bring about some good.”

Rouge frowns, peering at the screen. The commander attempts to explain why they weren’t able to penetrate Robotnik’s forces, but a strange little hedgehog could.

“Now, I know your real interest in this affair isn’t the whole good versus evil thing. It’s those emeralds, isn’t it?”

“I can’t believe those are real! Did you see how beautiful they are?”

“One day I’m sure you’ll find them.” Her mother has a smirk on her face that makes Rouge raise a brow. “But before you become an expert treasure hunter, you’ll have to settle for some baby steps to get you there. Did you hear about that diamond in Central City?”

-

Her mother is, unfortunately, right. Rouge needs to start small before she can enact her vision, before she becomes the grandest jewel thief in the world; it doesn’t keep her from dreaming, of course.

Rouge’s first true heist, the sort that Hollywood would make a movie of, is just a few months after Sonic’s first public appearance. And by that point, Sonic’s already begun to make a name for himself as the fastest thing alive, and the defender of freedom.

The incident with Little Planet had just passed, and while many people are off to enjoy the festival and celebrate Sonic’s heroics, Rouge has different plans for the evening.

The museum is well guarded- Central City is a hub for wealth and material pleasure, and with that comes the threat of nasty little thieves like her. The diamond is large, the largest thing she’s seen in her years of swiping goods from others, and Rouge knows that she has to have it as soon as she sees it, glimmering under fluorescent lights, begging her to take it home.

She spent a few weeks studying the museum, preparing to dodge guards and janitors alike. There’s security feed to cut, cameras to destroy, alarms to disable, and motion sensors to deactivate. It’s the thrill of the hunt that always gets her in a pleasant mood, and she finds the planning almost as exciting as the actual thieving.

It’s surprisingly easy to snag the diamond right under everyone’s noses. She slips in and out of the museum with her precious jewel without a single hiccup in her plan, and as she flies away towards her house, taking her sweet time and making sure to zig-zag across town in case of someone trailing her, she watches the diamond gleam in the moonlight, basking in the gentle natural glow.

And she realizes that this is not enough.

Her mother praises her for her first big heist, buys her breakfast and a new dress to go along with the diamond. Rouge’s appetite that morning is insatiable, and she finds it’s a hunger that follows her for the rest of her life.

The Chaos emeralds are real, and with that knowledge up her sleeve, Rouge can’t help her growing interest in larger and rarer gemstones. She’s building her way up to the heist of the century, and her gluttony only continues to grow instead of settle as she climbs her way to the very top.

Rouge decides to steal more. She breaks into museums in surrounding areas, she slinks into higher end stores, she maneuvers out of sight and out of mind from cameras and guards alike and snatches whatever her sticky fingers land on. It’s a thrill, to take and take and take, to take from an indifferent, apathetic world. It’s addicting.

It’s equally addicting, she finds, to keep careful track of those lovely Chaos Emeralds.

On the near eve of her fifteenth birthday, a new near apocalyptic event occurs. Dr. Robotnik forces his way onto West Side Island, a small little area near the west coast that managed to host a large metropolis, beloved by tourists. Dr. Robotnik, whom Sonic has been calling Dr. Eggman (which the reporters always seem to get a kick out of), forcefully claimed the territory, and it feels like the invasion of South Island all over again.

G.U.N. attempts to penetrate his forces, but they’re no match for his almost supernatural technology. The only thing that manages to get through Eggman’s defense, they learn a day later, is a quaint red plane with a blue-diamond coloured hedgehog inside.

Sonic arrives on the scene, trashing robots and decimating pollution chugging factories. It seems along the way he makes a new friend- the locals the newscasters manage to find identify him as Miles Prower, a genius prodigy with a tendency to be terribly weird. The duo take on Eggman’s forces, until they finally reach the epicenter of Eggman’s grand takeover…

The first Death Egg.

And that’s when the entire world sees two things that will change the whole game.

Sonic the Hedgehog has acquired seven emeralds.

Long ago, the mythos was that one of the seven emeralds was the Master Emerald, the one emerald to rule over the lesser ones. It seems that it’s not quite true, or there just may be another emerald, flung to the heavens with the echidnas… for Sonic the Hedgehog holds seven emeralds in his hands, as he stands on the wing of his plane, as the fox cub he found pilots him towards the Death Egg before crashing.

Which then brings the second point.

Sonic the Hedgehog unlocks what they later refer to as a “super” transformation.

His fur becomes the color of molten gold, his eyes become brilliant rubies, and a massive aura of power envelops him, short circuiting many cameras, and causing the few that remain to be unable to capture his true form. He looked like a shooting star sailing across the sky as he fled from the exploding Death Egg, a beam of sunlight trickling to the earth, until he releases the power of the seven emeralds, and he’s back to his brilliant blue opal coat of fur.

There are now seven emeralds in their playing field. Rouge’s eyes wander over the sight of them as they flee from Sonic’s body and disappear into the “special” zones they prefer to reside in. Rouge has done her research, and has found that they will settle across different parts of the earth for up to a few weeks, until they decide to go back into a special zone, a pocket dimension of pure Chaos energy, said to drive those of weak hearts and weaker minds mad. Seven emeralds to collect, to adore, to cherish.

It seems, perhaps, that the mythos of the Chaos Emeralds is ever growing. Rouge wonders if perhaps the Master Emerald might be found, too.

And, a month later, it is.

The mythical Angel Island, home to the extinct echidna, had been found at last. A grand battle between Sonic, Tails, and Eggman took place, another Death Egg was destroyed, but the news stations managed to pick up on a large green emerald attached to the retreating Tornado as it fled to the island.

The Master Emerald was real, and more beautiful than Rouge could have ever imagined, now resting on a mythical island, allegedly guarded by an echidna warrior, Miles (now called “Tails”) informs the nosy reporters who interview him as soon as he and Sonic touch down. Sonic denies any interviews and rushes off to chase his newest adventure, Tails clumsily trying to catch up to him in the Tornado.

But Rouge can’t help but notice… Well, she’d been following this strange little creature since his first big adventure, convincing herself it was because of her interest in snatching those emeralds from him one day. And she swears that his eyes were a brilliant, blinding emerald despite once being the color of onyx, and his fur had become a sparkling sapphire instead of a radiant blue tourmaline.

Rouge’s ambitions have soared now- there were two new mythical jewels to get her hands on. A brilliant emerald the size of herself twice over, and a new Chaos emerald. A rainbow of jewels to add to her collection, taunting her across the screen. Nothing is going to sait her until she gets her hands on those gems, but Rouge knows she has to play this smart. She has to become the best of the best before she can dare try to get her hands on those things.

So Rouge continues her heists, continues working her way up the ladder, until…

Rouge becomes the most famous jewel thief in the world.

When she’s fifteen, not long after the Angel Island incident, she pulls off her biggest heist at Station Square. A local auction was happening at a gala, a fun dance, feast, and auction for the most expensive jewels in the entire Federation. The richest person alive was hosting right near her hometown, and Rouge couldn’t resist slipping in and giving it a shot.

It isn’t hard, surprisingly enough. Rouge finds an open window to slip into, avoiding the bouncer at the front of the building. The rich folk are a bit wine drunk, and Rouge was trained by an actress to improv at a second’s notice. She pretends to be the daughter of an affluent banker, a person she had researched for days before attending the event, and the guests didn’t even bat an eye at her. Rouge talked and ate just like any socialite, laughing politely at all the right jokes and smiling during small talk. Turns out, small talk with rich people is terribly dull.

She snags all sorts of jewels off unsuspecting guests, watches and pearl bracelets and aquamarine earrings and ruby necklaces. Some items have already been bought, and those who paid for their luxury goods have put them on, making it even easier for her to steal. One of the highlights of her night is stealing a sapphire broach off the chest of a young woman; the broach had been passed on for generations and was worth far more than Rouge’s house, than probably most of the houses on her block put together.

Her masterpiece was stealing the largest hunk of tanzanite known to man. It seems the host of the ball was particularly fond of jewels rather than art, and it was one of the few things she could agree with the man on.

The jewel was fifteen pounds of solid crystal, and Rouge had been obsessed with taking it as soon as she heard about it. The auction for it hadn’t gone through yet, and it was currently guarded by multiple security guards and a variety of cameras.

It was easy enough. Rouge had scoped out the ballroom long before this event, and had placed a few electronic disrupters along the cameras and set them off. While the men in the security camera rooms struggled to figure out what happened to the cameras, Rouge started a fight out in the hall not far from the room the jewel was inside, instigating two men into smashing each other through a wall with the right amount of prodding. The guards went rushing towards the men after the loud noise, and Rouge slipped inside, snagging the jewel and slipping it into her oversized, faux designer purse.

More security guards rushed to pull the men off of each other, and during the chaos Rouge slips out of the building. It’s surprisingly simple, when executed, and Rouge still has that tanzanite hunk in her room back home, sitting underneath her desk lamp so she can marvel at how it shimmers.

Rouge goes on and on to steal more and more. She leaves little note cards just for fun, to taunt the authorities investigating her crime flings. She just can’t help herself. The thrill of the hunt, and the euphoria of the chase, are almost as intoxicating as the jewels themselves.

Then, at sixteen... G.U.N. offers her a job.

Commander Tower appears on her doorstep. Rouge had long ago figured out where to hide her gemstones, in a secret cavern underneath her room. Old houses always did have the benefit of having secret rooms, and it was hard to find the right floorboard to lift unless you knew what you were looking for.

“My, my!” Rouge greets, admittedly surprised by the sight of him. She knows he has no concrete proof behind any of her crimes, so she isn’t particularly worried. She knows the man’s terribly incompetent, and knows her plans have all been near flawless. “A military man like you at my door… don’t tell me I’ll have to invoke my third amendment?”

“Very funny, Miss Rouge. My name is Commander Tower of G.U.N., and I simply wish to speak with you. Do you have the time for a proposition?”

“You caught me right before my shift. I suppose I can spare a few minutes.”

She opens the door wider, inviting him in. His back is tense, his head is high, and Rouge snickers at his apparent unease as she walks in front of him, leading him to the kitchen. Without tact nor prompt, he sits at her kitchen table, watching her with sharp eyes. If she wanted to poison him, she wouldn’t be doing it so obviously! She tsks at him in her head before handing him a cup of coffee. She takes a drink of her’s first, and he follows tentatively after.

“I want to recruit you to G.U.N.” He starts, point blank. She does rather like that about men like him; to the point, no mincing their words unless they’re trying to save face over their incompetence.

“Me?” She widens her eyes, exaggerates a finger pointing to her. “I can’t imagine how much use I could be for you…”

“We have a firm belief you would do wonderfully in our covert operation. Perhaps with time, we could even send you over to our S.P.E.A.R. operation. We had an agent quit a few years ago, and we’ve been trying to fill her spot for a while. Something tells me you would be interested in a position in that unit, once we’ve established a baseline of trust. But right now, we’re very fond of your infiltration abilities. The Lead Administration in New-wave Counterintelligence and Espionage- L.A.N.C.E., for short- have been very adamant in asking me to recruit you.” He watches her carefully for a moment, and seems to decide now is the time for a monologue. “Do you know why we want to recruit you?”

“Quite frankly, no. I don’t see how little old me could be of any interest to you.” She tosses her hair. She’s been debating on cutting it shorter- long hair gets in the way of missions. “I’m a dishwasher at a no name restaurant. I highly doubt I have any qualities you're looking for.”

“G.U.N.’s interest has always been in protecting people just like you. Civilian security has always been our top priority.” She resists the urge to roll her eyes and instead leans forward, attempting to appear interested in what he has to say. “The Federation, unfortunately, does have enemies, people who want to harm innocent civilians such as yourself, enemies who view you as either intentional damage or collateral. I’m sure you’re well aware of Doctor Robotnik and his rise to power.”

“Yes, I’ve seen him on the news.”

“And of course, the menace, Sonic the Hedgehog.”

Rouge knows all about him. The only person in thousands of years to nab the illusive Chaos Emeralds… he’s been on her radar for nearly two years now. She even has plans to eventually rob him blind, when the opportunity strikes.

Of course, learning that a potential agent might have interest in supernatural weapons of mass destruction wouldn’t exactly be convincing. She can already tell he doesn’t like her, and doesn’t seem fond of having her join. Which is valid, because she’ll most certainly double cross and abandon them when she decides they no longer have worth.

Rouge keeps her answer simple. “Yes, I’ve heard of him, too. Hard not to.”

“They’re dangers to our current society, to our stability as a free country. As such, G.U.N. stands to keep enemies like them at bay, by any means necessary. Some means include force, while others require more subtle methods. And as I’m certain you know that knowledge is power, and can be far more potent than any weapon in any arsenal.”

Commander Tower takes a sip of his coffee. She purposely made the coffee as hot as possible, but the man didn’t even flinch as he drank. “I’m here to recruit you as a spy, Miss Rouge. I believe you would make a valuable asset to L.A.N.C.E. You're cunning, sly, perfect at improv, and charming. You have a tendency to get into places you shouldn’t and get back out with no problem. You would make a wonderful intelligence officer, should you so choose.”

Rouge frowned, making her lips pout just a bit. “I don’t know Commander, none of those traits really sound like me. All I do for a living is help support my mama.”

The Commander sets his drink back on the table. “You and I both know that isn’t true. You’re a world renowned thief. If I wasn’t morally abhorred by your crimes, I would be most impressed with your accomplishments. Stealing the president’s daughter’s wedding ring was a very interesting parkour trick.”

Rouge tilts her head. “I don’t quite know what you’re talking about. I was at work when that happened. You may ask my employer yourself.” The man was often drunk and happily believed whatever Rouge told him.

“We have no evidence, of course. You put up a wonderfully innocent front. You’re conniving and intelligent. But here’s the deal- you agree to be our spy, and I’ll make certain you have a steady supply of jewels as payment.”

She doesn’t allow herself to brighten at the prospects of their terms. “I’m not sure... while jewels are nice and all, I don’t think I would really want them as payment for my work. What use do I have for a hunk of crystal?”

Some day, she’ll completely drop this act of innocence. The world will know her name, recognise her face, and continuously fail to estimate her tenacity. They’ll see her and know that she’s about to rob them blind. But Rouge understands why her mother so loves being an actress, no matter how small the part is- there’s something very alluring in convincing others you’re someone else entirely.

The Commander watches her idly for a moment. “We’ll give you two forms of payment, in jewels and cash. And should you decide to drop your innocent act, we’ll look the other way if you decide to get handsy with a museum artifact.” He takes a drink, then adds, “Within reason, of course.”

Rouge taps a finger to her chin before offering her hand. “While we have a bit more to negotiate, I think we may have a deal, Commander.”

He takes her hand and shakes it. It’s a bit too tight to be considered friendly. “Welcome aboard, Miss Rouge.”

And for the next two years, Rouge finds herself acting as an on again, off again spy for G.U.N. She sticks around for a few months at a time, curious about all the information she can siphon with her connections, dirty secrets to harbor over those in power, and leads of beautiful gemstones that belong amongst her treasure trove. She’ll do a bit of dirty work for them, and when she grows bored, she goes back to thieving with all the information she gathered.

G.U.N. doesn’t bother apprehending her when she disappears to steal jewels. They know she’ll probably come back, and that she’s the best damn spy they’ve had in decades. They let her get away with whatever she likes, and while it’s minimized her thrill, it’s been maximizing her jewel collection.

She doesn’t work for G.U.N. for the glory, she doesn’t work with them out of the goodness of her own heart, and she doesn’t care what G.U.N. does with any of the information she gives them.
Rouge doesn’t believe herself to have a high morality, and while she’s vain, she’s not pretentious like some of her peers over their morals. Truly, stealing some jewels from the wealthy doesn’t compare to half the things G.U.N. orders their soldiers to do, but she supposes there are lines other people don’t like to cross. Stealing can be such a controversial thing amongst soldiers who know different ways to torture people.

Rouge doesn’t find herself making very many friends in the company, except for two. Agent Topaz is disillusioned into believing her work as an agent actually means something, but there’s something kind of reassuring in being near a woman who is so passionate and compassionate about her job, that Rouge manages to become her friend. Agent Garnet is similar to Rouge, in that she doesn’t necessarily believe G.U.N. is the answer to every problem, but different in the sense that she still wants to do the right thing. Rouge only hopes that they’ll both see the bigger picture of this operation and escape while they still have their shreds of morals.

Garnet and her often sit together at lunch, when Rouge bothers to show up for her job. Topaz will join them, when she’s not overworking herself to death. Conversations between the three of them, despite their wildly different world views, are surprisingly pleasant, but Rouge doesn’t let herself call them friends. They’re pawns in this game, and Rouge won’t hesitate to double cross them when the time comes… She’s just fortunate the time hasn’t come yet.

One day, the news is on, broadcasting a story over Sonic the Hedgehog. Scarlet Garcia excitedly debriefs the people over the latest situation- Sonic just defeated Dr. Eggman for the zillionth time, destroying yet another Death Egg and defeating yet another Metal Sonic. Rouge eyes the emeralds that disappear in a flash of white as Sonic lands on the ground, taking a bite out of her apple. Her hunger has suddenly spiked.

“Ugh, didn’t he already try this like, three years ago?” Topaz complains, watching the footage. There’s a perfect shot of Sonic’s roundhouse kicking Metal Sonic. “Like, wasn’t there a whole thing over Little Planet not so long ago?”

“He’s losing his touch,” Rouge states, biting into her apple again. Madonna appears contemplative as she watches the Death Egg blow up for the hundredth time.

“I met him once,” she says, casually. Topaz rolls her eyes as she chews on her piece of bread, and Rouge decides to take the bait.

“Met who?”

“Sonic.”

“You tell this story all the time,” Topaz complains. “We get it, you think he’s cu-”

Madonna punches Topaz in the shoulder. Rouge watches curiously, but smiles. “Well, you haven’t told me the story before.”

“It was last year, before I joined G.U.N. He saved my life. Eggman had raided the village I was living in, capturing people, trying to turn people into robots, like how he does with little animals. I don’t think the process worked out, anyway, but Sonic came barreling through the city and destroyed the machine Eggman was using. He was right about to try to roboticize me when it happened, and Sonic swept me off my feet and rushed me to safety.” Madonna glances up at the screen. It had moved on, discussing the President’s latest adventure in speaking to the Duke of Soleanna about trade restrictions. “He was very kind.”

Rouge rolls her eyes, “I bet he gets paid or something to do this.”

Madonna frowns at her. “G.U.N. sure isn’t paying. Do you know how obsessed some of the higher ups are about capturing Sonic?”

“They say he reminds them of a failed science experiment from, like, fifty years ago. Don’t tell anyone that, obviously.” Topaz sips on her smoothie. “But I’m not sure I believe those kinds of rumors. Still… Sonic is pretty dangerous. I mean, we’ve all heard about him being able to use those Chaos emeralds. No one else can do it, and those things are potent. And his normal form… he can totally shred steel like paper with just his quills.”

“He’s not dangerous,” Madonna chides. “He’s just a guy who wants to help people.”

“No one’s that nice,” Rogue states, a little flatly. “People always do things because they have a motivation, and the motivation always relates to how the situation benefits them. Sonic must be getting something out of this. No sane person would decide to go battle a mad scientist on a daily basis and risk their life for no reward.”

On occasion, Rouge wonders a bit over his perspective about the Chaos emeralds. They’re items to give him power, strength, but is he ever allured by their beauty? Does he ever consider collecting them for the thrill, for their beauty, for fun? He always gives them up… perhaps he knows he’s the only one with the confidence to step into a special zone and come back out safe and sound, and isn't afraid of anyone taking them from him. He’s got a storm coming if he’s that confident.

“I know you’re a cynic, Rouge, but sometimes, people are just nice.” Madonna rolls her eyes. “Not everyone has an ulterior motive.”

“Au contraire, naïve child. Everyone has an ulterior motive. Just because you can’t figure it out, doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“Oh!” Topaz suddenly squealed. “Look, Honey’s just put out a new line! Isn’t that dress gorgeous?”

Rouge doesn’t honestly give a lot of thought to Sonic as a person for a while. She keeps her eyes on those Chaos emeralds, tracking them like a predator with prey, and by extension, has her eyes out for a flashy little hedgehog. But he’s not particularly interesting to her, other than his ability to collect the emeralds. He’s just some super powered guy playing hero to make himself feel good, or to get attention, or to get money. No one ever does anything without a reason, without a selfish motivation, and Rouge can’t imagine Sonic being any different. He’s a daredevil, just like her mother said, and perhaps that was motivation enough for him to go after Eggman, for the thrill of the chase… just as she enjoys the thrill of the hunt for treasure.

And Rouge’s perceptions don’t really change until she actually meets Sonic in person.

Their first meeting, though, isn’t actually during the bizarre events of Project Shadow’s release. It’s actually in Station Square, a few months prior, when Rouge is edging on her seventeenth birthday.

Rouge had recently bought herself an apartment in Station Square with money from G.U.N. She was currently on hiatus from her job there, planning her next big heist; she’s got her eyes set on a large amethyst being transferred by train coming in this Friday.

Until, of course, Station Square begins to flood.

Rouge is among those that get trapped near the downtown center. Water is bursting from places it shouldn’t, pouring from buildings and fire hydrants and the drainage system, filling the streets with slowly increasing levels of water. Rouge’s heels are getting soaked, and she’s more upset about that than what this flood could possibly mean.

Until she sees it.

Perfect Chaos, in all its glory, screeching and roaring as it slams a tentacle into a building. The creature is only a few blocks away, perfectly visible from where she was, and the building goes crashing down. Rouge’s heart stops as the beast’s eyes seem to look at her before a wave of water goes crashing through the city.

Authorities begin to drive civilians as far away as they can, until they realize flooding surrounds them on all sides and they’re forced to move to the top floor of a nearby building. They straggle up to the roof, waiting for a helicopter rescue, and in the meantime, they keep their eyes on the strange beast.

Eggman attempts to attack the water creature, until Perfect Chaos shoots out a beam of light and practically incinerates the battleship. The helicopter is called off once they realize Perfect Chaos can shoot fucking beam attacks, and the group of civilians are left there on the roof. There’s a bizarre assortment of humans and Mobians huddled together; a crocodile tucking a chameleon and a bee under his arms; a rabbit, her daughter, and their two Chao holding each other tightly; an armadillo and a flying squirrel clinging to each other with wide, wide eyes. All of them had their attention centered right at the beast in the center of down town, smashing down another skyscraper.

Rouge had heard a little bit about Chaos from the news, but she didn’t know a lot of details, just that Sonic and his friends were trying to stop Eggman for some reason or another, and that Chaos was powerful. She didn’t realize he was a god until that moment, when she felt like she made direct eye contact with him, when she learned about the details in the newspaper the next day.

There’s a bit of commotion straight in front of the building they’re on. Sonic’s speaking to an orange echidna who kind of reminds her of Sonic’s friend, the echidna warrior Sonic claims guards Angel Island and the Master Emerald, and Rouge strains to hear an explanation over what was going on.

The girl speaks quietly, but Rouge manages to pick up part of her speech, ears flicking. “- he's filled with anger and sadness. And if it goes on, he'll eventually destroy the world, like he did before!”

Perfect Chaos lets forth a terrifying roar that causes a few buildings to shake. Rouge stumbles in her heels but catches herself on the railing of the building. She watches as Perfect Chaos discards the now powerless Chaos Emeralds, which appear blackened. Rouge momentarily mourn their lacking luster, until the echidna girl starts to speak again; the echidna looks frantic.

“Look! He's absorbed the Emerald's power! He must be sealed in the Master Emerald, now!”

Sonic appeared almost angry at her suggestion, his eyes narrowed. “How can that help? It won't change how he feels inside, will it? His heart will still remain in turmoil and his anger just won't vanish! He'll just be trapped forever!”

“What choice do we have?”

“Hey, Sonic!”

“Amy!”

The pink hedgehog suddenly appears, holding a blackened Chaos emerald. She cheerfully hands it over towards Sonic. “Here, take this!”

A few of Sonic’s other friends arrive, holding those dulled emeralds. Sonic appears confused at the sight of them, and the echidna girl bites her nails as she keeps her eyes on Perfect Chaos. Another wave of water tears through the city, the flooding spreading near where Sonic and his friends were standing, lapping at their feet like the waves of the ocean on the beach. “Hey guys, what's up?”

The fox speaks first. ”Chaos only used the negative power of the emeralds. Sonic, you should be able to harness their real power!”

The other echidna says, “As much as I hate to admit it, I think Tails is right about this!”

“Negative forces aren't the only way to empower the Chaos emeralds. Our positive feelings toward each other can make them work. Our hearts together form awesome power.”

The emeralds are dropped into Sonic's arms. He appears contemplative at the other’s words, and slowly closes his eyes. Rouge watches his friends cheer him on, and suddenly Rouge hears shouts from the civilians around her. They’re all leaning over the building’s edge, much to the local police’s chagrin, shouting and cheering for Sonic.

The apatite fur slowly melts into a candescent citrine. In a flash of light, the emeralds disappear, and what the media has dubbed as “Super Sonic” replaces Sonic, floating above the ground, energy radiating off him in waves Rouge can feel even from the distance she’s at.

She’s seen this form before, in blurry pictures printed in the newspapers, in shaky camera footage desperately trying to not get corrupted by the concentrated Chaos energy. A blur of scintillating scapolite, shooting through the heavens, dazzling all who lay eyes on him. But grainy footage and blown up pictures simply don’t do it justice- it was as radiant as sundrops, as blinding as molten gold, as brilliant as yellow beryl. It was blinding, it was mesmerizing, and Rouge couldn’t look away if she wanted to, locked on to the shimmering sunstone dazing all onlookers into a tentative silence.

Thunder boomed, lightning flashed, and Sonic slowly began to float towards the sky. He glances down at his friends and gives them a smile before shooting off towards the giant water creature in the center of the city.

And Rouge watches, utterly baffled, as Sonic begins to fight it. And win.

She doesn’t have all the details, but she can tell just from her own two eyes that Perfect Chaos is not to be trifled with. And from what she garnered from their little conversation, Perfect Chaos also had the power of the Chaos emeralds flowing through his veins. Sonic was fast, sure, and he fought Eggman all the time, but battling machines was far different from this beast.

But Sonic was fighting it, and winning. He was winning, and not only was he fighting it and winning, but he was also soothing it.

Even from blocks away, Rouge could feel the soothing energy Sonic was emitting. In fact, she’s pretty sure she and most of the civilians are even affected by it, considering her heart rate was steady, and she felt calmer than she had in months despite the stressful scene before her eyes.
Sonic was attempting to soothe the beast he was fighting, just as he said he would.

It takes a couple of minutes, as Sonic destroys Chaos over and over again, as Chaos reforms back into Perfect Chaos over and over again, until the time between reformation steadily grows, and the beast begins to shrink, slowly, slowly, slowly, until Perfect Chaos reforms back into regular Chaos, appearing soothed and content as it played with a few Chao.

And that was it… the end to a grand battle between god and a pitiful hedgehog comes to a gentle end instead of a thunderous collapse. Chaos is saited and calmed, and it seems Sonic is content by this outcome, instead of delivering a swift punishment.

Sonic gives up the power of the emeralds, fur back to azurite, and Rouge watches as the mystical artifacts separate, repelled like magnets to the far corners of the earth. Sonic doesn’t stick around for long after, disappearing in a blur of lapis after Chaos is sealed back in a giant emerald along with the female echidna.

Rouge is so stunned by this train of events that she doesn’t even think about snagging that giant fucking emerald. She’s entirely boggled by everything she just saw.

Eventually, everyone is rescued from the building. Rouge’s apartment is far enough away that it didn’t withstand any flooding damage, and Rouge finds herself in her room not long after the events, still trying to process everything she saw.

She had heard about Sonic, had even seen some footage of him in action before. He was charismatic, silly, and as quick with his tongue as he was on his feet. But there was something so impeccably different about Super Sonic than Sonic in his normal form; there was almost a regality, of sorts, a sense of seriousness he usually lacks when he fights with Eggman as a sparkling sodalite instead of a decadent diamond. It was daunting, seeing Sonic wield that sort of power, with a gentle smile on his face but a serious expression in his eyes. His body was sharp, every inch of him able to cut through the most durable diamond, every inch as dangerous as an asteroid, as a nuclear bomb, as the burning sun itself.

And when she reads the newspaper the next day, fresh from the press with detailed statements from Tails and Amy, she can’t believe what she’s reading. Perfect Chaos was a god from thousands of years ago, who devastated the echidna population after they sought to steal the Chaos emeralds from it. Perfect Chaos was a god, a god of ancient and unclear origins who destroyed an entire race of beings, who wiped clean the earth of echidnas, who nearly destroyed Station Square and the entire world once more in a fit of hysteria, from a temper boiling over from four thousand years of stewing. Sonic fought a god. Sonic fought a god who also had the powers of the Chaos emeralds at its disposal, a god who was responsible for nearly ending the world thousands of years prior.

At this point, Rouge has no idea what to think about Sonic. He risked his life, fighting against a god, to save a city, to save a world, to save her. Was he just... getting really well compensated for his efforts? Was he just that desperate to get attention? Was he overconfident in his abilities?

Rouge can’t make heads or tails behind his motivation. Sure, he could have just wanted to save his friends, but the obvious solution would have been to run them to the far side of the planet, not rush headlong into a battle with a fucking god. A god. She just watched him fight a god and win.

And perhaps, if Sonic was particularly selfish but still wanted to save the world, if he was particularly uncaring beyond his home and friends, he would have agreed with who she learned is Tikal. He would have gone the easy way out, would have sealed the beast back into the emerald for someone else to deal with. He would have saved the day, and avoided potentially dying by the hand of a distressed and ancient being. He had thousands of options at his disposal, but he chose the hardest route, a long and hard battle with a creature of pure Chaos, a sympathizing hand outreached, a compassion to a creature who was simply lashing out after being hurt.

Rouge feels a bit light-headed.

When she shows up for work a week later, Madonna is watching her with a raised eyebrow. “You live in downtown Station Square. Were you there at the flood?”

“Yeah, I was.”

“Did you see him?”

“I did.”

“What do you think now?” She sounds awfully smug.

Rouge crosses her arms. “He was just saving his own skin. If Chaos destroyed the world, he’d have no place to run or be a hero in. And I bet he’s getting paid handsomely.”

Madonna, usually quick to anger, instead watches her for a few moments. She drinks a cup of hot chocolate, remaining silent, before simply stating, “You don’t believe that.”

Rouge huffs and walks away.

Sure, Sonic was perhaps turning her opinions over life and the nature of people, but she wasn’t about to discuss that with Madonna’s smug expression. Instead, Rouge files it away, decides Sonic’s fight was a fluke, and tries not to think about him ever again. It was the apocalypse- no one makes rational decisions, and if Sonic had considered the event rationally, she’s sure he would have tucked tail and fled, or at least have callously sealed the monster back in the emerald.

Until a few months later, G.U.N. assigns her a very strange case.

Rouge becomes swept up in the affairs of Project Shadow, acting as a double spy for G.U.N.

And boy, what a mess that entire situation is. Shadow is hell bent on setting the world on fire, Eggman seems equally excited to use the power Gerald Robotnik left behind for evil uses, and Rouge is kind of caught in the middle, not stopping them, just doing her job. She doesn’t take up this job for the greater good, because she cares about the world and the people in it, because she has any desire to be a hero. She only does it because she wants to get close to that Master emerald, because she’s finally cracked the coordinates of the island, because she happens to live on this planet and wants to keep living on it.

She fights with Knuckles, checks in periodically with Eggman and Shadow, until she’s revealed as a spy, until the Eclipse canon is destroyed and the ARK is on the verge of crashing into the earth. She hears about Sonic’s potential death in passing, that he had been duped by Eggman and was probably a hedgehog pancake, probably dust in the wind, and Rouge tries very, very hard not to think about it, because she certainly hasn’t processed any of the feelings she has over seeing Sonic save the world, and having run into him a couple of times during this fiasco.

Commander Towers interrupts her broadening to inform her that the ARK is about to crash into the earth, that the world is about to end, and Rouge can’t help but think that the only person who could have done anything is now dead. But who is she kidding… what could Sonic do about a space station the size of a small planet about to crash into the earth?
They’re doomed, completely and utterly doomed, and Rouge wishes she had tried to steal those Chaos emeralds years ago.

She wanders the hallways, trying to figure out how she wants to spend her last few moments, and manages to catch Knuckles and Sonic, completely taken off guard by the sight of Sonic, but composes herself long enough to deliver the news Commander Tower relayed about the ARK to Knuckles and Sonic, because Rouge is a cynic and the world is going to end but Rouge wants to believe so badly, wants to hope against hope that maybe Sonic can fix this, just like he did with Perfect Chaos, just like he’s done a thousand times before, and she wants to believe in the impossible just this once because there’s a thousand things she hasn’t done, because Rouge wants so badly to keep living in this world, no matter how infested and plagued it is, no matter how irredeemable humanity is, no matter how many wars are waged and lives are lost and how pettiness and greed and vanity pollute every corner of the world...

So she tells him, tries not to get her hopes up and fails, and everyone involved in this insane adventure manages to all meet back in time to watch Gerald’s last video diary.

Rouge doesn’t find herself having too many morals, doesn't pride herself on that in the slightest, but even she feels a bit green at the sight of Gerald getting executed by firing squad. Eggman gives her another diary of Gerald, and they learn more about Gerald’s descent into madness. Knuckles, Sonic, and Tails rush to try to stop the descent of the ARK; Amy and Shadow have disappeared, leaving Rouge alone with Eggman.

The two of them watch the security footage. Amy convinces Shadow to help Sonic, and Shadow fights the Biolizard. Knuckles and Sonic stop the Chaos emeralds, but the Biolizard Chaos controls and combines with the ARK, launching it back towards the earth.

Rouge watches for the second time in her life as Sonic transforms into “Super Sonic”, but this time, Shadow does, too. The two of them speed out of the ARK and start to battle the Finalhazard, trying to stop the ARK’s descent.

Rouge and the others try to give their words of encouragement; the battle with Perfect Chaos is fresh on Rouge’s mind, where the crowd cheering invigorated the emeralds back to full power, and it’s so terribly cheesy to believe that the power of friendship and good will and compassion will save the world but Rouge is willing to put her whole heart into this if it means the world won’t end in a blaze of fire. Rouge watches from the observatory window as streaks of gold flash across the sky, battling the giant lizard. Rouge can’t believe her eyes, can’t believe that she’s watching Sonic fight yet another monster, watching Shadow give up his quest for revenge.

Of course, they're only doing it to save the world they live in. It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts or anything like that. She can’t dare think that they’re being selfless, she can’t dare think about the emotions she’s felt since watching Sonic soothe Perfect Chaos, because now is not the time to fall apart, to reanalyse her entire life.

Instead, she watches, until the entire ARK is shrouded in a bright white light, and she can feel it lurch. The radio they had connected to Shadow and Sonic with is disrupted, creating an uneasy static as the ARK settles in place. Soon, however, they all cheer excitedly when the alarms turn off and the computer says the collision course had been avoided.

The cheers immediately die, though, when Sonic comes back aboard the ARK alone.

Silence shrouds them for a heavy moment, and everyone soaks in the sight of him, holding a single golden bracelet.

“Where is Shadow?” she asks, even though Shadow threatened to kill her, even though Rouge was always meant to double cross him, even though he tried to end the world, even though she barely even knew him, even though she already knows the answer.

Sonic glances down, and it feels bizarre to not see a smile on his face. Every media snapshot of him was with a goofy grin, with a cocky retort on his lips, but instead Sonic was staring at the golden ring with a seriousness she had only seen when he was battling Chaos. His eyes were sharp, piercing, as they finally met her gaze. He hands the bracelet to her, delicately, and she takes it. It’s enough.

Rouge asks the question on her mind, knowing none of them could possibly have the answer, yet... “Do you really think... that the professor created him, Shadow, to carry out revenge on all those who live here, on earth?”

Sonic doesn’t even hesitate. “He was what he was. A brave and heroic hedgehog, who gave his life to save this planet. Shadow the Hedgehog...”

Rouge watches Sonic carefully, taking in his words. “I guess you're right...”

Eggman appears somber, another rare expression on the people she never truly thought she would meet. “As a child, I looked up to my grandfather because of all the great things he accomplished in his life. He was my hero, and I wanted to be a great scientist like him. But... did he really mean to destroy us?”

Tails, who is far too young to answer a question like that, still does, in the only way an earnest child could. “I don't know. But what I do know is; we all did it together!”

Eggman pauses. Rouge would give a lot to see what he was thinking, in that moment. “You're right.”

Knuckles, who's been quiet for this entire time, turns to look at Rouge. He didn’t exactly have much of an interaction with Shadow, anyway, so mourning him wasn’t particularly hard. “So what's next for you, Rouge? Off again to find those jewels you love so much?

She rubs her finger on the ring. “Nah, I think I'm gonna give up this line of work. Too much work, for too little pay. Anyway... I've got something better than jewels that I'm thinking about right now... It'll all work out, you'll see.”

Knuckles frowns. “If you say so.”

There’s a conversation between Amy and Sonic, and Rouge turns to listen to them. Amy’s clearly trying to get his attention, but Sonic has a far away look in his eyes as he stares out the window. “Created... the Ultimate Life Form.”

Amy frowns at his words. “What's the matter, Sonic?”

“Oh, it's nothing. Come on! Let's go home! To the planet as cool and blue as me!”

Everyone begins to walk out of the room, excited to get home and forget about this clusterfuck, but Rouge catches Sonic stopping at the door, turning to the windows. There’s a pause, like he’s searching for something, before he says, ever so softly, “Sayonara, Shadow the Hedgehog.”

It’s not the last time they see Shadow, of course. Rouge finds him a few months later in Eggman’s base, they try to figure out if he’s an android or not and are kind of inconclusive about that, and then aliens invade, and then time moves on. The world continues to spin, and continues to grow crazier with every new sunrise.

Still, in that moment, Rouge is far more than astounded. Shadow sacrifices himself to save the world. If he was selfish, if he was anything like Rouge, he would have let the world end along with him. He had no reason to save it, no home to go back to, no people he cared about. But he had made a promise to that Maria girl, to save the world, to keep humanity safe despite their sins, and she supposes for some people, that’s reason enough to not the world burn. She meant everything to him, so was it truly a selfless sacrifice? And if she’s honest… was it just another form of suicide, to avoid living in a world without Maria, in a world where his creator betrayed him, in a world where he would have to rectify with his mistake of nearly destroying the world?

Was it even possible to be completely altruistic? Was every good intention bound to be tainted? And was that really such a terrible thing when it brings about so much goodness?

Can a hero still be defined through selflessness, even if there was still an underlying selfish motivation behind them?

Rouge still can’t quite decide if heroes are real or not. The definition she’s been believing in since she was a small child seemed ill fitting, seemed too small to encapsulate all that she’s seen, all the evil and good and morally grey. She wants to pretend that it still works, that heroes don’t exist, and that her world can remain small in the battle between good and evil.

Sonic, however, seems dead set on challenging everything she’s ever known.

She’s not present for all of Sonic’s adventures over the years- she’s got jewels to steal, and she’s not particularly helpful in fighting gods, anyway. But she hears about them, sees some of them firsthand, and she’s often left wondering over Sonic.

She watches him try to befriend Shadow as the Black Arms attempt to take over the world, cheerfully offering him support, trying to validate his identity. Sonic could have treated him as an enemy, as simply someone to defeat before taking on Black Doom himself, but he didn’t. He tried to be kind, to help Shadow as best he could in the ways he knew how, even if he came across as a bit annoying, even if Shadow kept pushing him away, as Shadow struggled over his purpose and identity.

She hears about Sonic saving their world from colliding into Blaze’s dimension, she hears about him helping Blaze save her world again, she sees him try to save everyone from Eggman Nega, she sees him stop the Ifrit, she sees him stop Eggman and Boswer from ruining the Olympic Games, she sees him take on Jet and the rogues, she hears about him saving the world from Dark Gaia, and she’s there when he takes down Eggman’s Eggmanland and frees the Wisps from his clutches. He’s there, every time the world needs to be defended, every time the day needs to be saved, every time his friends are in trouble.

Sonic saves the day, over and over again, and from what Rouge understands, he really doesn’t get paid for it. G.U.N. has no interest in reimbursing him, only persuading him to their side. Sonic often dodges the press and disappears for weeks on end. He’s private, keeps to himself, and seems to simply enjoy the simple pleasures of the world until that very world is in danger once more.

And yet Sonic pushes himself, over and over and over again, to save the world. The world loves him for it, and Sonic clearly doesn’t really mind the attention, but it doesn’t seem to be the reason why he does it. Of course, he saves the world he lives in, it makes sense, but Rouge can’t help but think if she had to keep saving the world every week, she’d have given up and passed the job to someone else.

He doesn’t have to do this. There’s others like him, like Shadow and Silver, who would do this, who would save the world, because they have actual reasons to, because they had a promise to fulfill or a future to save. It doesn’t have to be him, but it is.

She just doesn’t understand him, and it frustrates her to no end, to meet someone who goes against everything she’s been taught, everything she knows. There's no such thing as heroes and there’s no such thing as selflessness.

The worst part, though, is that Sonic seems to like her. If she could just hate him, could just make up a reason behind his heroics, then it would make her life all the easier. But Sonic seems to just genuinely be a pretty nice guy.

She sees it, in the way he’s constantly looking out for Tails, in the way he pushes Knuckles to get off the island and socialize, in the way he actively seeks out Shadow and tries to talk to him (even if that talking is mostly with their fists), in the way he tries not to hurt Amy’s feelings while he keeps rejecting her, in the way he tries to keep Cream out of fights, in the way he babysits Charmy when Espio and Vector go on hard cases, or even tags along and helps them.

She sees the way Sonic offers people chance after chance, offers his hand to people who keep knocking it away, offers it to Shadow, to Silver, to Blaze, to Knuckles, to the Babylon Rogues, to villains who just need a helping hand.

And she sees, over and over, as people that were rivals, that wanted him harm, become friends, or at the very least, pseudo friends (Jet will deny it to his dying days, but Rouge can see the way he interacts with Sonic as opposed to their first meeting, and can see that Jet considers him a friend).

He’s not naive, though, and she thinks that’s the strangest thing about him. He’s a hero, an optimist, but he’s not idyllic. He’s not Knuckles and Silver, who offer their trust back to people who keep breaking it, to people who promise to change but don’t. Sonic offers his hand, offers to help people change, but that doesn’t mean they have his trust until they earn it, and he doesn’t offer that hand to people who won’t ever change, to creatures of vitriol and humanity blighted by darkness.

Rouge knows what category she falls under, knows that after all her constant back stabbings, all of her constant team switching, that Sonic doesn’t trust her. In fact, for a long while, she doubts he even sees her as a friend, until the unexpected happens.

Rouge is a little more than surprised when Tails shows up on her doorstep with a hand made invitation. It’s got glitter all over it, with scrawling handwriting on the front. It’s obvious Tails made it. “Tails, what are you doing here?”

Tails hands the invitation to her, and while she glances at it, she doesn’t open it. He looks a little shy, but answers, “Well, I’m inviting you to Sonic’s birthday party. All the details are in the card, but just so you know, it’s a surprise, so don’t tell him.”

Rouge blinks, glancing at the card, then back at Tails. “You’re inviting me… to his birthday party?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to invite all of his friends, which is harder than you’d think.” Tails motions to the card. “That’s why I’m not just sending these electronically. A lot of Sonic’s friends are kind of off the radar, so I have to send them a bunch of letters and stuff. Thankfully, Amy’s helping me with that, since she was Sonic’s pen pal and knows how to send letters- I’ve never had to do that, until trying to get in contact with some of his friends.”

Tails shakes his head and then glances at the card again. “And, well, some of them I have to hand deliver, since they don’t get mail out there, so I figured I’d stop by and give a few that were on my way, anyway.”

Rouge stares at the invitation. She’s not one to be prone to self doubt, but she can’t help but ask, “Are you sure you want to invite me? I don’t particularly think I’m a close friend.”

“Sure you are.” Tails gives her a confused look. “Sure, I’m very confused about where you stand morally, but you always pull through for us. Of course we’d invite you.”

Tails glances at the watch on his wrist and gives Rouge a small wave. “Well, I’ve got a few more stops to make, so I better get going. See you Rouge! And don’t forget- it’s a secret!”

Tails scampers away from her doorway, and Rouge is left holding a glittery invitation. It’s clearly handmade, and she’s certain this is Tails’s handwriting. It makes her smile a little, seeing Tails do things that are more kid-like, like arts and crafts.

Still, she’s not entirely sure she should go. It feels a bit like an intrusion, considering she and Sonic aren’t particularly close. But if Tails has invited her… well, Tails loves Sonic, and wouldn’t consider inviting someone he knows Sonic doesn’t like, wouldn’t he?

Rouge huffs. Who cares if they’re actually friends or not! It doesn’t… It totally doesn’t mean anything to her, actually. Nope. It just means betraying them is going to be so much easier than the last time. That’s all it means.

Rouge will attend, to keep up the trust they’re giving her, to pretend that she cares, to foster a relationship that will burn when she turns her back on them for good. She’ll attend, because the Chaos emeralds might be there, because she might be able to add to her trophy collection. She’ll go because she has nothing to lose.

The time between then and the party is so small Rouge almost misses the party herself, thinking she had more time. Thankfully, Rouge was planning on being fashionably late anyway. She knows Shadow and Silver had been rooming together for a while, and tries to get them to attend the party with her; not because she’s nervous or anything, just because she wants to see what sort of fights could break out with them there… but it seems Shadow and Silver have left already, because the apartment is empty.

Well, that’s fine. She’s not nervous about this party filled with Sonic and all of his bubbly friends. She’s certainly not nervous about being turned away, about it all being a farce, about everyone hating her. Why would she care? She’s never cared about anyone’s opinions, and she’s not about to start now! Even Madonna and Topaz are kept at a careful distance.

Rouge arrives around the same time the Chaotix do. All of Sonic’s friends are there except for Tails, who’s dragging Sonic to the party as she thinks. There’s presents lined on a table near a tree, and a giant cake she knows Vanilla baked. Amy comes over to her, an unreadable expression on her face, before she asks, “No Shadow?”

“He wasn’t at his apartment.” Rouge shrugs. “Neither was Silver. Maybe they decided to ditch.”

Amy appears disgruntled. “Ugh! I hate flakes. But at least you showed up. I almost thought you wouldn’t.”

“He’s coming!” Vector suddenly shouts, tossing his binoculars to the side. Everyone moves into position, and Sonic arrives immediately after Tails.

He looks a little confused as he skids to a stop, casually asking, “Hey guys, what's going on? Are you having a party or something?”

A moment’s pause as Sonic walks closer, and then everyone shouts “Surprise!” Vector removes the lid from the cake, and Knuckles, Espio, and Rouge pop confetti into the air.

Sonic looks almost bashful at the sight before he sighs exasperatedly, “Oh, you guys.”

(If Rouge had to guess, however, as a spy who spends all of her time reading people like cards, that his surprise was a little bit fake.)

And for a nice ten minutes, everything’s fantastic. Sonic, Amy, and Tails chat while Rouge flirts with Knuckles and the Chaotix try their hand at a chili-dog eating contest as Cream and Blaze open up the cupcakes.

And then there’s this giant, purple beast that disrupts their party and sucks everyone into some sort of black hole, and Rouge finds herself stuck in white space, feeling cold and in between consciousness until Sonic finds her again and rescues her.

The entire event is bizarre, seeing Sonic and Tails fight alongside their younger counterparts. Rouge had been aware before, that Sonic and Tails had been young when starting the fight against Eggman, had seen in real time an eleven year old Sonic destroy Eggman’s very first fortress… but to see such baby-faced little kids face off against the Time Eater- well, it kind of made Rouge a little... sad, she supposed.

Eggman and Robotnik teamed up to harness the power of the Time Eater, yet another god for Sonic to defeat. Sonic’s been running around white space, trying to recover the sections that the time god had been trying to eat, and rescuing others like Rouge along the way. Others who weren’t even at the party eventually showed up, too, like Shadow and Silver, bizarrely enough. Rouge kind of wonders if maybe that’s why they weren’t at the party… Time certainly is strange.

And then Rouge watched the final battle, watched as the two Sonic’s were beaten down by the Time Eater until they used the power of the Chaos Emeralds to save the day. Rouge and the others cheered them on, and Rouge was once again astounded by the power of the Chaos emeralds, curious over them. She always coveted them, simply because they were jewels, and she finds herself wondering over their power.

Sonic and little Sonic share the same expression. While the older Sonic attempts to maintain a cheery disposition, the two of them both have that rarer, serious quality she seems to only see them have when they use Chaos energy. Glimmering like yellow jade, their features had sharpened to diamonds, and they fiercely attacked the Eggmen, no hesitation in their features.

They manage to stop the Eggmen and destroy the Time Eater (Sonic has defeated another god. She would think that seeing it happen first hand twice was enough to stop shocking her, but it still continues to astound her). Classic Sonic and Tails head back to their original timeline, and the party continues.

It turns out the people already there aren’t the only ones invited. Tails had invited a whole slew of people, some who arrived fashionably late after traveling from far and wide to see Sonic again. Mighty and Ray are the first to stagger in, cheering excitedly at seeing Sonic again and regaling the crew with tales of their first few meetings together. Bean, Bark, and Fang arrive next- Bean and Bark were eager to talk to Sonic and chitchat, and while Fang tried to make it clear he wasn’t interested, that he hated Sonic and only came because Bean and Bark wanted to, it was clear after he got roped into a conversation that he didn’t actually feel that way.

Honey the Cat appeared, too, and Rouge and her traded fashion tips and tricks. The Babylon Rogues even showed up, Wave handing Sonic a modified version of his board. Jet tried to play it off as wanting Sonic to be actual competition to him, so of course he needs a better board or he’ll never keep up with Jet, but Wave was blunt enough to wish Sonic a happy birthday and that Jet was full of shit.

Dozens and dozens of other people continued to trickle in; an old professor named Pickles, Big the Cat, Omega- which she really didn’t expect- Chaos and Tikal, Sticks, and a whole slew of other people. Some didn’t stay long, while others remained until long after the party was technically supposed to end, and as more and more people continued to trickle in, Rouge couldn’t help but marvel a little at the sight.

She doesn’t recognise most of the people that greet Sonic. And it just... astounds her, too, thinking about how many people Sonic knows, how many people he’s helped save. Every one of them tells the story of how they met, of how they became friends, and it’s insane to see just how many people Sonic left an impact on. Ray and Mighty claim that Sonic was even their inspiration to become heroes; Bean, Bark, and Fang admit that they weren’t particularly nice people before meeting Sonic; Honey eagerly admits she only entered the competition to win a Chaos emerald to get famous for her brand and didn’t even care about the fate of the world. There’s countless other stories, about how Sonic changed their lives for the better, about how Sonic saved them or offered them a hand and changed their life completely.

And Rouge just can’t help but wonder just how many people Sonic’s impacted. How many people did he stop to befriend along the way? How many people weren’t invited, simply because Sonic never bothered to talk about that exploit? How many people has he impacted like this?

Rouge stays to the sidelines, mulling over, listening to everyone's story, listening as they all chat. If Sonic was selfish, if Sonic wasn’t a hero, why would he have bothered to befriend so many people? Why would he bother being friends with Honey or Shadow or Might and Ray or Silver or the Rogues or Rouge?

She just doesn’t understand Sonic, doesn’t understand his motivations behind what he does. There’s countless others who would have similar stories to the tunes everyone else is playing, and why would Sonic bother caring and helping so many people?

Rouge knows that people aren’t nice without motivation, without reason, without a desire for reward, but she just can’t figure out what Sonic’s motivation is.

It's late, long past the time the party was supposed to end. Most of the others have left, though a few stagger around, cleaning up or continuing to chatter. Amy was regaling the party with the tale of how she and Sonic met. Tails was fast asleep against the tree; it was probably long past his bedtime.

“And the flowers bloomed at our feet as we landed!” Amy stated, motioning with her hands. “Petals fluttered down, landing in our quills. It was such a romantic scene, straight out of a romance movie!”

“Something tells me that’s not quite what happened,” Blaze says, a bit dryly.

“It totally was!” Amy huffs, cheeks puffed, before she cheerfully asks, “Anyone else want to share how they met Sonic? Who have we missed…?”

“Silver,” Blaze suddenly states, peering back at the hedgehog in question, who jumps at his name. “How did you and Sonic meet?”

Sonic’s grinning, and Silver watches him with sharp eyes for a moment, before he coughs and looks away. “Ah, uh. I think it happened during an encounter with Eggman Nega… Cream! What about you?”

Cream, who’s sleepily clinging to Amy, brightens a bit. “Oh! The first time I met Sonic was when Perfect Chaos flooded Station Square!’

Sonic seemed surprised by the answer. “Huh?”

“Mmhmm! Cheese and I and my mama watched you fight it! It was so cool! And when I accidentally fell off the top of the roof, you caught me!”

Sonic’s brows furrow, before he hums. “That was you, huh? That’s sort of weird to think about. That that day might have been the first exposure people had to me.”

“Station Square is filled with millions of people,” Amy says, humming. “I wonder how many people there later became friends of yours? I mean, we know Vector was able to get back in contact with you after he saw you there! And so did Honey, and so did Mighty and Ray! I wonder how many more people were and will be bridged to you by this event! It was your first big hero gig!”

Sonic appears startled by the revelation, and Rouge can’t help but peer at Cream. The crowd on the roof she had been on… were those two rabbits and their Chao Cream and Vanilla…? How many people had she met that day without realizing it?

Silver and Rouge manage to lock eyes. Silver looks away, and Rouge frowns, gaze moving back towards Sonic. Cream excitedly tells him all about the rescue he gave her, while Amy appears thoughtful. “Hey Rouge, how exactly did you meet Sonic, huh? It was during the ARK incident… but I don’t know how you got all wrapped up in that.”

“I met Sonic for the first time on the ARK,” Rouge states, simply. “My job was to double cross Shadow and Eggman for G.U.N., though I was really there to just steal the Chaos emeralds when no one was looking.”

“Of course you were,” Amy says, rolling her eyes. Blaze has a contemplative look on her face that Rouge doesn’t like and pointedly ignores.

“It was honestly barely a meeting,” She admits. “We didn’t talk much until the Commander told me the ARK was hurtling towards the earth, and when we thought Shadow was dead.”

“Ha, yeah! That was a really busy time! I could barely keep track of Tails and Amy, let alone wildcards like you. Also, I think I spent a good chunk of that time in jail.” Sonic whistles. “That sure was an adventure. One of my favourites.”

Shadow appears annoyed. “Can’t we talk about something else?”

“Don’t like remembering how I beat you during that race in the ARK hallway?”

“It was tie!”

“Mmhmm.” Sonic stretches his arms. “How about we go for round two?”

“You’re on.”

The two go racing off, a flash of blue and black disappearing over the horizon. Amy shakes her head fondly, Silver rolls his eyes, Cream giggles, and Blaze sighs. Rouge watches the horizon for a moment, before she asks, “What exactly does he get out of all this… adventuring?”

“He likes the thrill,” Amy answers, easily. “And he wants to keep the planet and his friends safe. Simple as that. I’ve always admired his simplicity.”

“He is simple,” Silver says, with half a sneer, and Amy hits his shoulder so hard he winces.

“He enjoys it,” Blaze states, and there’s a heavy look in her eyes when she meets Rouge’s gaze. “Isn’t that enough?”

Is it?

Do heroics really have to stem from total altruism? Is it possible, for selfishness and selflessness to coexist? Is it really just that simple?

Rouge frowns, looking away. “I suppose it is.”

Rouge doesn’t change her opinion. There’s no such thing as heroes, that they’re nothing but fantasy to make people feel better about themselves. But sometimes, selfishness and selflessness can bleed together, that even if compassion isn’t so far from vanity, it doesn’t wholly negate the good a person does. Sometimes a person helps because they want to, and sometimes thats just enough, isn’t it?

She still thinks the world is unfair, that it's an every man for himself society, but Rouge thinks she found the one exception.

Sonic’s cocky, arrogant, brash, and stubborn. But he’s above all kind, and proves himself to be selfless with a side of selfishness, again, and again, and again.

She hears more about his adventures, like his adventures with the Zeti, until the worst day in history happens.

Sonic disappears.

She hears the story secondhand from Knuckles, who heard it from Tails, who was there to witness it all. A new goon of Eggman’s, some jackal named Infinite, attacked Sonic and Tails while they were on a mission. Tails said that Infinite seemed to have captured Sonic; he refused to believe that Sonic was dead, but was only being held captive by Eggman for whatever nefarious purpose he had in store.

The next six months are, to say the least, insane.

Tails goes AWOL about a month after Sonic was captured. He’s so overcome with guilt that he can’t stand being near all of his friends, and he decides to try to figure out where Sonic is on his own. Shadow has also disappeared, and despite how much Rouge tries to get in contact with him, Shadow won’t answer.

She’s assuming it’s a G.U.N. mission, but Commander Tower won’t tell her anything. He’s focused on evacuating cities Infinite and Eggman manage to take over and trying to defend what’s left of their crumbling world.

It’s an unexpected move, but as things begin to crumble, as Sonic’s friends flail in the absence of a leader, Knuckles steps up. He’s not that great, and is heavily supported by Amy, but he’s the only one willing to make snap decisions, and people find themself listening to him despite the fact he might not always have the best ideas. Amy strategizes and Knuckles works on instinct and the two manage to lead a pretty stable rebellion for a while.

The fact of the matter, however, is that they’re fighting a losing war. Without Sonic, no one is using the Chaos emeralds to perform a much needed miracle, and everyone can feel his absence as Eggman conquers more and more land.

Two months after Sonic was captured and three weeks after Infinite destroys Knothole, Knuckles approaches her at Club Rouge. Station Square hasn’t been hit yet- while Eggman has been attacking parts of the Federation, he seems to be aiming for other countries, first. Soleanna had already surrendered; the princess insisted on fighting, but the Duke had already given up before the war started.

“We need your help,” Knuckles states, point blank, though he looks a bit miffed at having to admit that. Rouge leans against the counter of the bar and Knuckles clasps his hands together. “We need an inside man to help us, if we want any chance of fighting this war. There’s too many unknown variables here, too many unknowns. We need information. You’re the only one who can do it.”

“What about Espio? He can literally turn invisible.”

“He’s doing his best, but it’s not enough. He’s not a trained spy like you, and he’s more focused on sticking with the Chaotix. After what happened with... well, everyone’s worried about others getting captured.”

Rouge taps her chin. “What’s in it for me?”

Knuckles’s brows furrow. “What?”

“Well, what do I get out of this?”

“You help stop a war?” Knuckles gives her an incredulous look. “You could help us stop Eggman from destroying the world, one that I remind you, you live in! You could even help us find... find him, or at least figure out if he’s dead or not.”

Rouge shrugs. “I’m sure Eggman would be willing to pay a pretty penny to have me on his side. I just don’t see any appeal in placing my bets on losing dogs.” She gives Knuckles a flat look. “And honey, I love you and all the other kids, but this is a losing battle. If they took down Sonic, you all have absolutely no hope in winning.”

Knuckles stands up, slamming his hand on the table. “You can’t be serious, right? Rouge, this is literally the end of the world we’re talking about! You can’t tell me you’re going to throw it all away?”

“It might be the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end for me. I only work for myself. I don’t know why you’re so surprised about this. I only care about myself, and that’s never changed, and never will.”

“You’re despicable,” he spits. “You disgust me. I don’t know why I bothered coming to find you, why I bothered thinking you would ever see past your vanity. The end of the world, and you don’t even care.” Knuckles seems to be working himself into a frenzy. “You don’t care! You don’t care what Eggman’s regime will mean! You don’t care that Station Square will end up just like Knothole, just like Spagonia, just like Soleanna! You don’t care that all of your friends are going to die, you don’t care!”

Knuckles is still enraged, muzzle as bright red as his fur, but Rouge can see tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. “You don’t care that one of your friends has been captured by the very megalomaniac who’s been obsessed with killing him for years? You don’t care about Sonic, after all he’s done? After everything he’s given up, after everything he’s done to save this world over and over again so everyone can go about their lives, free from oppressors like Eggman? He saved the world for people like you, so you could go and steal your jewels without a care in the world, and now that there’s no Sonic to save the world, everyone has to step up and do his job, and you don’t care! You don’t care.”

Rouge places the cup she was washing down. If she slammed it hard enough the bottom cracked, well, no she didn’t. “I don’t care.”

“Your apathy is disgusting.” Knuckles pushes himself away from the bar, muzzle wrinkled in disdain. “Fine! Don’t help us! Must be nice, not having a conscience! The worst part is, Sonic would still save your selfish ass. I won’t be so kind, though, in your moment of need.”

Knuckles disappears, after kicking her bar stool to the ground. Rouge clutches the cup she had set down, listening to the doors slam after him.

What did he expect from her? Rouge never hid her intentions, never paraded as someone with any sort of morals. Rouge never pretended to be anything she wasn’t. She was a thief, a liar, a cheater, and she never pretended to be anything more. It’s on him, for thinking she could ever be more, for thinking she was more. His expectations were too high, too unrealistic for what she was. A liar, a cheater, a villain in her own right.

She doesn’t care about the world, because it’s never cared about her. It’s always going to be every man from himself, and as she watched countries slowly collapse on themself, as world leaders give up civilian rights to Eggman, she’s never seen it more true than now. People are divided amongst themself, some becoming a part of the Resistance, and others joining Eggman to save their own skin.

Rouge never pretended to be any better than those picking Eggman’s side.

She’s only ever cared about her own skin. She’s not special, either; everyone’s just like her. Everyone will pick their own safety over the majority. Selflessness isn’t real, heroes don’t exist. There’s no diamond in the roughs of the earth that can prove her wrong.

Except...

Sonic…

Rouge can admit that she’s come to admire him. He cares about people, truly, always offering a hand, time and time again, to those who need it. She’s seen the way he actively tries to befriend those who did him wrong, she sees him make connections with people he had never met and probably won’t, seen him make friends with unlikely people.

She remembers his birthday, seeing so many people he touched the lives of, and imagining the countless stories never told, people unable to meet with again, the sheer amount of people who exist because of him, defined by him, influenced by him.

Sonic’s the exception to the rule, the singular champion of the people who’s willing to give all that he’s got for a planet that gives him so little in return. He didn’t have to stop Eggman from harassing those woodland animals, he didn’t have to save Angel Island, he didn’t have to soothe Perfect Chaos, he didn’t have to help Shadow throughout his entire identity crisis, he didn’t have to do anything he did, but he did. He did, because he’s a juxtaposition of kindness and selfishness, because he’s the most human creature Rouge has ever met despite his inhumane power.

He saved those creatures from Eggman’s claws, he set Shadow on a straighter path, he saved the lives of billions, he soothed gods, he offered his hand, again and again and again, and all for what? He was never paid, he was never in it for fame or glory. He’s just a guy who loves adventure, just a guy who wants to help others. He’s here for the thrill, but he still has a heart of gold to keep him straight.

And isn’t that enough? Isn’t that enough for a hero to be? Isn’t that enough to believe in? Someone who cares?

Rouge... can’t just let the one good thing in this world disappear, can she? She finally found an exception to her rule, she finally found someone she could call a hero, and the first thing she does when that person finally needs her, when it’s finally Rouge’s turn to repay her debts, she shies away, because she’s selfish and vain, because she’s only ever cared about herself, because she’s only found one exception to her rule.

Those aren’t traits that can just disappear overnight. They are core parts of her personality, to only care about herself, to save her own skin. Rouge always envisioned herself on the winning team, and was never one to side with the obvious loser. She only ever cared about being on the winning side. She played this game of life to win, and she didn’t care how much she had to cheat to get to the top, to save her own skin, and to sait her material desire.

Choosing to join the Resistance is basically signing away her life. She’ll be on the losing side, no doubt, and it won’t be a pretty end. Eggman is ruthless, sending his attack dog to raze cities to the ground. They won’t survive against Infinite, not if Sonic, Tails, and Shadow are all out of the picture, not if they can’t find those Chaos emeralds, not if they lose all reason to hope.

But if they can get Sonic back...

.... they can turn the tides of this war.

Which is why they need her. To figure out if Sonic’s still kicking, to figure out where he’s at, to figure out how to save him. They need her to dig deep under Eggman’s securities, to figure out if their only hope was gone, if the fires of their resistance had been blown out. Because if Sonic is still alive, if Sonic is still kicking, if Sonic is still around, they can have hope.

And that’s really all that’s needed to win a war. Not miracles, as pleasant as those are. Not bombs or weapons of mass destruction, not guns, not blood, not sweat, not tears. Just an inkling of hope to spread like a wildfire, to destroy the corrupt empire, to slash and destroy and bring about a new, better era. A controlled burn so something better can rise from the ashes.

She... owes it to him, doesn’t she? If he had never become a hero, the world would have ended time and time again. She would have no doubt died in Station Square a year ago, no doubt drowned under the wrath of Perfect Chaos. Eggman would have taken over, would have ruined life as she knew it. She owes it to him, doesn’t she? To finally give back all that he's given her, intentionally or not?

He never saw her that day in Station Square, they didn’t meet until after. He didn’t know she was there, he still doesn’t know the impact he’s had on her life. He doesn’t know what she owes him, he doesn’t know that she watched him, gilded and chaotic, sweep across the city and battle a god for her safety, for the safety of his friends, civilians, for the world.

He doesn’t know that she owes him, so does the debt truly exist? She can walk away, and he would never be the wiser. He wouldn’t know. He wouldn’t expect anything more from her.

A week later, she arrives on Angel Island in the middle of a meeting between Knuckles, the Chaotix, Amy, and Silver. She sits down without a word, and listens to their battle plans. Knuckles and Amy plan on forming a blockade around one of Eggman’s factories north of Shamar. No one says a word to her, until the meeting is adjourned and the Chaotix and Amy and Silver have split to fulfill their roles.

“You’re joining?” Knuckles asks, simply, crossing his arms. “Or are you here to mock us? Or be a backstabbing double agent for the Eggman Empire?”

“I... owe him a debt.” Rouge clasps her hands together. “I don’t like owing people anything. So I’ll help, just this once. I’ll help bring him home.”

Knuckles softens, ever so slightly. “I have a tip about his location. I'd like you to investigate, if you’d start now.”

“Lay it on, commander.”

The next four months feel... strange. The world continues to shrink despite their best efforts- Infinite continues to destroy, destroy, destroy, and there’s just a handful of territories who haven’t given up fighting yet.

Rouge is on a deep reconnaissance in the Death Egg, having traveled there as soon as she heard about its launch. It’s Eggman’s main headquarters, and she knows the Doctor himself is there with her, along with Infinite, during the few days he rests before going back to terrorizing people.

She heard that Eggman was keeping prisoners aboard. She tries not to get her hopes up, considering how much time has passed, but Rouge owes it to him to keep exploring, to keep looking. He wouldn’t give up, even for her. He already saved her life before, over and over again, inadvertently and on purpose, and Rouge knows it’s only fair to keep looking for him.

There’s no way he’s dead, not yet.

She slips inside the security room, hovering over the guard. They don't notice her, falling asleep at the job, quiet snores pervading the silent room. Rouge watches the screens, searching, searching, searching, until she finds one screen in the top left corner. She recognizes the glittering sapphire huddled in the corner, talking to Zavok before Zavok kicks him in the gut.

She spends two days coming back to that security footage, watching every encounter Sonic has. Metal Sonic, Zavok, and Shadow seem to visit often. She can’t hear what Sonic’s saying, but it’s clearly never what the visitors want to hear, and he seems to pay pretty costly for whatever slips off his tongue. Infinite visits a couple of times, and while he never leaves any physical damage, what he does is... horrendous to watch. Rouge doesn’t think of herself as having a weak stomach, but she feels sick every time the two of them interact.

Rouge winces every time she watches, but she can’t keep her eyes off of him. She can’t believe he’s still alive, after everything, after all this searching for him. He’s still breathing, using those breaths to mock his captors. They haven’t broken him, they’ll never break him, a blue diamond through and through, and Rouge is so, so, so thankful she’s found him.

She needs to get back to earth to tell the others about this. The communications they have don’t work up in space, since they don’t have Tails’s technological knowledge. She needs to get out of there as soon as possible. And hopefully, they’ll have a rescue party in the works after she relays the information.

But before she leaves....

Rouge slips inside the cell, the code memorized a while back. She's not supposed to be here, considering it was an unimportant risk to be made. But Rouge always kept her eyes peeled for valuables, and as soon as she found this cell, she knew she couldn't keep her curiosity in check.

Besides, she was a spy. It's important to gather and collect all available data, isn't it?

It's pitch black, now that it's artificially night. Thankfully, she has perfect vision for this. And it isn't hard to find the lump huddled in the corner of the room.

She flutters over towards Sonic, slipping down right next to him. Sonic's staring absently at the ceiling, and it really looks like no one's home. She places a hand on his arm, which causes an immediate reaction: Sonic recoils from her touch, flinching violently, fist forming, before he catches her face.

"Rouge?" he coughs out. His voice is hoarse, and he sounds like he's in pain. Her eyes rake him quickly for injuries, but she doesn't see any. Still, she's seen enough footage to know what Infinite does to him- there's little physical evidence of his torture, but she knows the truth.

"Hey, Big Blue." She runs her fingers through his quills, trying to offer him a bit of comfort. Sonic winces again, before almost leaning into the touch. He still appears suspicious of her despite the action.

"You're not real," he simply states. "I'm not sure what the angle is here, but would you please leave me alone? It's been a while since I've gotten some good shut eye."

His eyes wander over towards the doorway. "I know you're there, Infinite. Let me have some beauty sleep, huh? Chaos knows you need some. Whatever's behind that mask can't be pretty if you're covering it all the time."

It's nice to know Infinite still hasn't silenced that smart mouth. "There's no trick here, Sonic. I'm real this time."

Sonic sighs. "That's what they all say. Still, even if you're fake, I'm going to enjoy this until you try to kill me. Just a few more minutes, hm?"

She scratches his ear, figuring that since Shadow likes it, he probably does. Sonic leans into the touch and closes his eyes, appearing almost content. Seems she was right. "I'll get you out of here, Blue. Help is coming, soon."

"Mmm... yeah, I bet." Sonic sighs, his voice lowering. He's clearly exhausted, struggling to stay conscious. "Infinite says it's been six months. No one’s come yet. Which, like, no biggie. I’ll get out of here eventually. I’ll get out of here. All by myself, if I gotta. No problemo."

There’s something... desperate in his voice. She thinks he’s trying to convince himself. "They’ve been looking for you this entire time, you know? You seem to be a pretty precious gem; tough to find.”

"Haven't heard that before." He adjusts himself, head rubbing against her leg. He keeps his eyes closed, his breathing beginning to even out. "You know, you might be fake, but thanks anyway. It's been a while since I've... been touched like this. Sure, you might be lulling me into a false sense of security, but I’ll take what I can get before Infinite decides to have you stab me or something."

Her heart nearly stops at that. "Just... go to sleep, hun. One of these days when you wake up, it's going to be the day you get rescued. But go ahead and sleep for now."

"Sure thing. I'm never one to turn down sleep." Sonic yawns. "Always wished we could’ve been better friends. Night, fake Rouge."

He drops off almost immediately after. She can feel it, in the way he goes limp in her lap, his quills softer than gold. She sits there for a few more minutes, quietly petting his head, brushing out his matted quills.There’s so much she wishes she had said, had done, in those few moments of Sonic’s consciousness, but time is the enemy here.

Rouge scratches his ear one more time before gently settling him back on the floor. Sonic curls into himself, and Rouge watches him for a few more moments in the doorway, knowing she needs to escape as soon as possible, but she can’t quite find it in her heart to leave. Anything could happen in between the space between her finding him and a rescue. And if the rumors about Eggman getting ready to launch him into space were true, then that means this could be the last time she sees him alive.

"Help is on the way," she whispers, before she shuts the door.

Rouge isn’t a hero, and never wanted to be. She doesn't bet on losing dogs, she doesn’t swing for the losing team. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself, anything but jewels. She never wanted to be a hero.

But maybe, for him she could be. Just this once...

... A week later, and a rookie takes on the mission to rescue the long thought dead hero from his prison.

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