There's a face searching far, so far and wide
There's a place where you'd dream you'd never find
Hold on to what if
Hold on to what if
—Live and Learn
He dreams of sailing constellations and wandering meteors. Stars glitter within neurons just beginning to learn how to perceive their light. The silence that envelops him, a tranquil shelter that permits none of the weaknesses of mortal flesh—no pain, no heat, no cold. Ensconced inside himself, he floats in a perfect harmony between subject and observer.
But the darkness is fragile; it shivers. It begins to shift. His blind eyes blink open, and the stars crack and bleed an intense crimson heat. The colony, his home, shakes violently as if to strike the planet with an iron hand—and one of the stars flashes toward him—one of the stars calls his name.
The ARK's cold, empty corridors echo the faintest disturbance. It shouldn't surprise him that they easily carry the sound of Sonic's small, thin voice, but it shudders him to the bone.
His name tapers into a deep, oppressive silence.
Prying his cheek from the corrugated floor, he lifts heavy knees and climbs to his feet. His steps generate a dense grind, metal on metal. Overly filtered air squeezes his temples, making the blood pulse hard between his ears. This quiet he once took refuge in now seems more intent on crushing him.
Shadow accelerates the pace. Steel and cable floors morph into glass panels, underneath which his reflection streaks past.
He finds Sonic lying supine on the floor of an abandoned lab.
"Did it, bud." He has trouble keeping his head up, preferring to sag instead against the support of Shadow's arm. "Made it. You're home."
Giving him a weak, unfocused smile, he closes his eyes, and does the one thing Shadow didn't think possible.
How many times has he demanded he sleep? How many times has he insisted that Sonic shut his mouth? Keep quiet so I can think.
And now look at them: truly a pathetic pair. The boy lies horribly, unnaturally still in his arms. His pale lips part to draw a breath that will never come. Quiet as the grass that grows over a grave.
It isn't over yet.
It… can't be.
He hurries down the labyrinth of winding halls, dead-ends impeding his progress. He has to find it. For Sonic's sake, he has to find a stasis pod.
The capsule hums as it emits a soft green glow. Nestled within its bed of cables, Sonic slumbers.
Shadow brushes a fingertip along the glass, throat tightening.
"I was created in one of these," he says quietly. He doesn't know why he talks about this now. What little good it would do. He can't even remember it, as much as one might remember being born. "I hope it'll help."
The Emerald produces a sudden burst of light. As he looks toward it, an abrupt stabbing pain bursts into his skull, compelling him to clutch his head and squeeze his eyes shut. He doubles over, witnessed by a pod-bound body as the floor and walls around them melt into darkness and their fur gleams a pale gold.
Again, he's enveloped in the deep sea of space that he and Sonic encountered during their fight in the clearing.
Don't touch me.
"Where are you going?"
To fulfill Maria's wish. That's all I have left.
"You're wrong! Don't do this!"
No, he insists. He has to finish what he started.
Sonic drags him back. "Shadow," he yells, stabbing a finger at the roaring creature that makes a mockery of the ultimate life form, "you're almost out of energy! Get back to the colony and I'll take care of this creep!"
He blasts off in a rainfall of sparks.
"No, I have to— Sonic? Sonic, wait— Come back!"
The colony vanishes, only to reappear tamed a few seconds later. The monstrous being piloting it has disintegrated into a cloud of space dust, which disperses in scattered flecks.
Shadow scans the bright curve of atmosphere churning the Earth's clouds when he spots it in the distance: the golden hedgehog now turned blue.
He races toward it, but a flash of heat repels him, shoves him back.
He screams, but silence strangles his voice.
A speck in the atmosphere, as blue as sky and sea: a pinprick flare devours him.
Shadow floats in the darkness, unbelieving.
"It wasn't… supposed to be like this…
"What have I done… "
He fell because of you.
You knew it should have been you in his place. So you induced another Chaos Control, and used the the Emeralds' power to wish for a world without death.
Suffice to say, not all wishes deserve to come true.
Shadow picks up the drained Emerald he's laid at the pod's base and turns it in his hands, watching both of their reflections glimmer and revolve. An infinitesimal spark still burns within. It shouldn't be possible. Restoring the world should have been a vain effort.
Is it? Sonic's lent the last of his life to teach him this lesson. Horror, hate, mercy, and affection: all are facets of the same heart.
"Sonic," he whispers. "Forgive me." His gaze settles upon the planet he and Maria used to contemplate. He hadn't realized at the time what beauty it could hold. "And… Thank you."
He knows now what must be done.
Sonic doesn't know why he slows in this particular spot. There's not much reason to chill in a clearing of tall grasses unless you wanna invite an army of hungry mosquitoes to chow down. Even so, something compels him to stand in the shadow of a towering pine and appreciate the view.
The sky glows a clear, lustrous blue. As the old cliche goes, the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. All in all, seems pretty peaceful. No Eggman antics to speak of, anyway.
Slowly, his brows knit together. Creeping in from behind a wispy cloud, the space colony drifts into view. Its pyramids of towers and blinking lights remind him of a previous adventure. More importantly: an enemy turned friend.
His foot brushes a flat stone slab blanketed by dry weeds, whose inscription reads a simple epitaph. A brave and heroic hedgehog. He's ashamed to say he'd almost forgotten.
"Shadow," he murmurs, voice surrendered to the lonely scrape of wind through the trees. He loses himself in a moment's reflection before giving the sky a tiny grin. "Be seein' ya, buddy."
And he's off.