The glass fell with a deafening whoosh of air and then the world was still, and Shadow whirled about, pressing his hands to the cold glass in shock. The ripped blue fabric of her dress, her bare feet, her small, paling hand clutching at her chest filled his gaze. She crumpled and winced and her eyes fell on him with tender love, hope he would escape safely.

"Shadow," her timid voice whispered loudly in his ears above the blaring sirens.

Shadow trembled and smashed the glass in vain. He was too weak, having suffered wounds of his own and a depletion of chaos energy used up to get them this far.

"Please, make a good life for yourself down there, and-" Another wince and her voice hitched. Red was seeping through her chest onto her hand. "And, please, protect all the people on that planet. Make all their dreams come true so they all can live in peace. Do it for me, Shadow; and do it for you. Live happy, my dear family."

"No—no—Maria!" He screamed and blinked a flow of tears away. "Please, open the capsule, op-"

"Sayonara, Shadow the hedgehog," and she pressed something and then the world he'd known slid away and the vastness of a cruel, inhospitable space surrounded him, threatening to choke his life away.

Shadow dropped to his knees, hands still pressed to the glass, his fingers trembling, his body stiffening. He wept. Words wouldn't form, though they stuck in his throat and he started panting in grief and disbelief that his entire world had just ended.

He fell, he burned, he crashed. He didn't care. Then the soldiers came and he slept. That was mercy for him.

The next time Shadow awoke, a strange man in some sort of elaborate red uniform was shaking a fist up at him. Shadow held a stoic pose out of habit, but his mind was reeling and his body felt cold to his very bones. The man was rambling on incessantly and it made Shadow's head ache. But there was something else. Flashes of gold hair, soft to the touch; a melody of a voice laughing and then screaming. The sensation of five fingers sliding down his head and playfully tugging on his tail, and then another happy laugh.

He pressed his eyes tighter, trying to collect the strewn puzzle pieces of memories. Inside the mix of tender feelings of love he felt, there were far more murmurings of distrust, and then horrible pain.

Shadow let his eyes slide open and he focused again on the ostentatious man beneath him, who was sitting in the center of some kind of machine on two legs. He listened.

"How can you be the top-secret government project my grandfather had been working on?" The man was still ejaculating his displeasure. "You're just a hedgehog! This is so utterly disappointing! I broke in here and took all this time and trouble to get all the way down here for this?"

A project? Wait. That was him; he was-

Shadow unfolded his arms, as a fragment of new memories cemented his own identity. In his mind's eye, he was then able to recall a massive space station and thousands of scientists always working, always going this way and that. A sea of white coats and faces of concentration. Among them, though, there'd been a sprite with golden hair. She'd been the only person in that floating world that had sought him purely for his companionship.

Shadow took a step forward out of his pod and focused on the now. Though he kept troubling feelings suppressed, he at least knew now what he was. "My name is Shadow," he breathed with confident finality. "I am the ultimate life form. Who are you?"

"I—I'm Doctor Eggman!" Scratching his bald head, the man huffed, not seeming to be impressed, or not understanding what Shadow's statement meant. "I just rescued you from decades of slumber down in this rot of a GUN compound! If you're the ultimate life form, show me your power!"

Foolish human. How humorous. Well, he was awake, thanks to this man, and so Shadow unfolded his arms and smirked, "Very well. If what you say is true, I'll grant you a favor. Come with me."

Shadow blasted up, thanks to his shoes, and landed behind the doctor. More ejaculations from the man followed. Shadow ignored him and started walking back the way Eggman had come in. As they progressed back up through wherever this sunken place was, Shadow tried to sort a continually-building barrage of thoughts, pieces that just made him feel stranger and more downcast.

"Shadow, don't you ever wonder what grass feels like? Probably not at all like this smooth metal. I heard some types of grass are coarse to feel. I'd love to feel it."

He was surrounded by the intimate grays and whites of such a metal jungle when those soft words sighed through his mind. Troubled, Shadow increased his speed. This place was oppressive and suffocating. Where were the colors of nature—colors of life that he needed to breathe in so he could remember that he, too, was living?

Then—some kind of large machine landed in front of them, in a square clearing of nothing but more metal and lights flashing. It stood on two massive legs, turquoise for the most part, with some yellow and red coloring near the top. A soldier of some type sat inside.

Behind him, Eggman had silenced. Shadow really didn't feel inclined to bother with this, but it was a nuisance he knew wouldn't let them leave, and so he destroyed the, honestly, slow and witless machine in mere minutes. He suffered not even a scratch, though the billowing smoke from the felled opponent made him smirk once more.

"Amazing!" Eggman slammed his fists to the sides of his machine.

Shadow cared nothing for such praise. This was a familiar feeling to him: to be in awe of, but kept at a distance. It stung. He turned away with a calm, "If you want to see a real demonstration of my power, bring the seven chaos emeralds to the central control panel aboard the space colony ARK."

"Sh—shadow—wait!"

He ghosted out of there in haste, unsure why he'd even decided to do any favors for such a person. A human, and that word made bile rise in his mouth. Humans were scum. All of them, but one-

He was outside the compound at this point and came to a sudden halt, trying to remember just what had been on the tip of the forefront of his mind's eye. Another sweep of golden locks and then there was the spinning of someone and blue fabric twirling outward. Blue eyes focused on him, motioning him into her world of fantasy, where she would dance before large glass windows as the backdrop of Earth glowed blue against her skin.

Nothing else would come to him, but what he'd recalled was enough. Only she'd ever deserved to see the full score of emotions rise up out of his person. After her elimination, he'd been alone. Shadow had decided to lock the unique part of him away when GUN had tranquilized him and put him into a deep sleep: his emotions. No one deserved to receive them from him.

For hours, day waning into night, he pressed on through city streets, grinding effortlessly down cables on bridges and springing clear through the air only to land lightly on his feet. Thus, did he explore, mostly for the sake of his own curiosity. The chattering of people, the sounds of sirens and honking from vehicles amused him. Then there were the smells of food that even he turned toward, allured until he recalled he had no interest in dropping among people. On, he ran, stopping as he wished, continuing to feel and experience a shower of emotions in the dark safety of night. No one could see him feeling vulnerable.

After a lingering pause, Shadow resumed. Nothing offered any type of challenge for him. He knew he was the ultimate life form, but wasn't completely sure yet what that meant. Just that, as obstacles arose, he shattered them with chaos energy that felt good and warm and natural for him.

Atop one of the many bridges, he yet paused another uncounted time to gaze out at the millions of golden lights in every direction.

"Shadow, look at that! Doesn't it make you think that someone tossed little pieces of gold all over the earth?"

They'd killed her! No reason would ever justify Shadow into passive acceptance. There, atop the bridge, he clenched his fist and murmured, "I'll make them pay, Maria! All of them. I'll get revenge for you!"

The sun rose. He progressed, eventually coming to a central point of the city. Atop another downed machine, he slowly turned a chaos emerald about in his hand. He'd found it somewhere. Maybe he'd had it all along? It didn't matter. Holding it pulsed a fervor of chaos energy into his body.

And then, someone yelled up at him. Shadow darted his eyes down before him. There, accusing him with a pointed finger, stood a blue hedgehog that held somewhat of a resemblance to him. Though their colors held no similarities, their physical features otherwise did. Curious, Shadow silently observed the hedgehog continue to berate him with accusations. It was rather comical. The boy was apparently just that: a silly, easily-angered child. Yet, despite how the juvenile kept shouting at him, Shadow admired the energy radiating off of him.

The hedgehog accused him, calling him a faker, rambling angrily at him. To be mistaken as someone else and have to deal with endless GUN soldiers tailing him, Shadow smirked in understanding. But not sympathy. Why he wanted to rile the child up, he couldn't pinpoint. Just, the idea would be fun.

Turning fully to the blue hedgehog, Shadow hid a chuckle, "I don't see myself as the faker. That would be you!"

To his snotty remark, the blue hedgehog gaped. Then the child dared to run at him. What could he accomplish, truly?

Shadow studied the chaos emerald and he inwardly sighed. There was no time to play games with this child. In a flash of light, he used chaos control and transported away, leaving that hedgehog to deal with a mess he had caused, leaving metal carnage through his wake as he'd run about the city that night.

He ran just to run and because he had to fetch another chaos emerald with that female bat Rouge. She claimed to be working with Eggman, therefore an ally for him. Shadow held in his doubts. Since the ARK slaughter, his ability to trust anyone, even with proof of their loyalty, was next to zero. But he allowed her companionship, as it didn't matter, ultimately, what she or Eggman did. After he had all seven chaos emeralds, everyone would pay.

His feet brought him to a lush, humid rain forest, where he came to a slow stop as something else crushed his mind.

"Oh, Shadow, look at this picture! Isn't this just breathtaking? This is called a rain forest. I read it's hot and makes your skin sticky, and that there's exotic creatures there that could really hurt a person if they're not careful. But probably not you! Wouldn't you love to go there someday?"

Maria, the flash of light in a miserable, despised existence. Only she'd sprouted love to him and seen the inside of him before the outside. Who he was. Though her days had been precious and few, the humans had killed her before those days were expired. Murderers!

Shadow pressed a hand to the nearest trunk to keep from crying and screaming. Under his breath he grit, "I will never forgive them!"

Then, the bat girl's voice came in on the communicator. She was in trouble. Trapped, and the island was about to blow up! Her tone and her circumstance were pitiable, but he had no plan to rescue her. She was supposed to be self-sufficient and had boasted of her skills in such areas of espionage and infiltration. So much for all her claims.

And right in the middle of his moral dilemma, that blue hedgehog sprung into a clearing, noticed him, and began ranting at him all over again! This time not amused, Shadow roughly faced the boy and sprung down to make short order of him. To his surprise, the child was strong and faster on his feet than he'd first observed. It was like they danced, throwing petty insults back and forth. Who was he again? Sonic? And that was supposed to leave an awe-inspired impression on him? Shadow ruthlessly pinned Sonic to the spongy earth and choked half the life out of him.

But there was no point to kill such a young one. Sonic wasn't a human, and the child simply didn't know what was going on. Shadow took pity and sprung some feet away.

He refocused on his mission, turning to take his leave, but Rouge's precarious situation wouldn't leave him alone. Agitated, he stopped to think about it. Just a little, she was like Maria: helpless to escape, about to die. With a growl of frustration, Shadow raced ahead of the depleting seconds and saved her, using chaos control to take them both out of the island just in time.

Did that blue hedgehog also make it out alive? Curious at his own hopes that it was so, Shadow continued on.

From there, his hours were a blur of Eggman's schemes and then traveling back into space. More like traveling backwards, almost like Shadow was playing events on rewind. Upon returning to the ARK, seeing the massive structure looming ominously above, forgotten, feared, he wanted to die there.

But he couldn't. He'd remembered his chaos abilities and how he'd learned to focus and master them under the microscopes of the scientists. Days, weeks, months, years all the same: tests, blood samples, poisons and gases. Endless, dizzying procedures to see if he was susceptible to diseases, to see when his bones would break and how fast they'd heal. Forced insomnia. Over a week of no food or water.

None of them had seen him as a sentient person. Just a project. Only Maria had hopped around him, snuggled up against him in her small bed, bothered him with Brother's Grimm stories, or made him try nasty food he disliked.

Back then, he'd been naive to how cruel humans were. Never again would he trust them.

So, Shadow allowed Doctor Eggman to place the last chaos emerald in the central computer and blow up half the moon. What a good joke. Only, the doctor's persistence to make grandiose announcements to broadcast his so-called evil genius plans annoyed Shadow. What a ludicrous crackpot. But he kept his opinions to himself.

Of course, as he'd also learned, that blue hedgehog Sonic had been more than a persistent itch to scratch away. The speedy fool wouldn't let up. He raced off to confront the child once more, but this time Sonic had proven a respectable foe. The boy had learned quite a few of Shadow's tactics and his style of fighting and—in a stunning turn of events, it was he that time that found himself on his back, with Sonic returning the favor by punching him across the face. Momentarily disoriented, he grimaced. How could he have been bested? Nothing could defeat the ultimate life form!

Maybe there was more to being what he was than just raw power. Secretly confounded, Shadow slid away. He couldn't let anyone stop him!

Then things really turned sideways and the screaming, enraged bio-lizard had escaped. Humbled, realizing his own deceit, Shadow understood then that even a plan that seemed perfect had mistakes. Being ultimate didn't mean he was insusceptible to errors. His own anger for revenge had caused this travesty and he had to clean up this mess!

But he wasn't allowed to do it by himself, as Sonic surprised him by proclaiming, "Team work always beats going it alone! C'mon, Shadow!"

With a second of hesitation, Shadow admired the blue hedgehog's single-minded, positive nature. He ran after Sonic and that was the first time he had transformed into something that he knew Maria would have called beautiful. He was positively dazzling gold, a lighter, paler shade than Sonic, but the same in essence. His foe then became an unsteady ally and they'd sped forth through the weightless vacuum of space and destroyed the pathetic creature that had hung on the end of the ARK.

One would have thought all had been put back in their proper places and that everything would be fine at last, but Shadow fell again.

It was—familiar. How? The girl's fingers were bloody and her skinny frame hunched over the control panel. With pleading eyes, she cried at him and coughed blood onto her lips.

"Shadow, please, do it for all those people on that planet."

Why? Why would a sweet girl like her want him to get revenge for her? Or, had he been mistaken in his remembrance of her last words? He hadn't actually seen her die, either. But of course, she had. That was just the natural, the only ending to their farewell scene.

Space pushed him down and Shadow fell to Earth. A second time, he awoke disoriented in another chamber of greenish fluid. This time, as he fell out and slowly stood, a white bat was standing before him. Just slightly shivering as coldness set in, he progressed to wipe the fluid off his person.

"Shadow?" she gasped in surprise.

Was that him? He couldn't think clearly for some seconds, then some memories returned quickly, chunked, broken. A flash. Firing. Instinctively, Shadow sprung forth and wrapped his arms around the woman to protect her. There was a red robot madly shooting at everything. He rose to destroy it, but she stopped them both and convinced them to cooperate for their greater goals.

The woman then seemed amused at his inability to connect his memories, "You, you can't remember much, can you? Well, why don't we three get to know each other better and figure all this out as a team! I'm Rouge."

Therefore, Shadow followed her, because it would benefit him. This type of thing had happened before. Just when? She was familiar, claimed she'd help him recover his memories. Trusting Rouge would keep her word, he kept to himself and did her bidding. If she stopped aiding him, he'd merely leave, for, ultimately, he did what he wanted.

Time slid past and their team encountered a blue hedgehog which Shadow immediately remembered.

"Faker!" He growled, delighted to see how that kid Sonic bristled at the nickname. Apparently, everyone around him knew him from some time ago, but Shadow still couldn't clearly remember so many things. All he wanted, hour after hour, more and more, was to figure himself out.

At some later time, as storm clouds thundered wind and rain and Metal Sonic transformed into some hideous artificial monster, Shadow remembered more. Sonic used the seven chaos emeralds to go super and Shadow remembered his previous situation on the ARK with Eggman and the bio-lizard. He took one step forward and watched, with some sense of awe, at the shimmering gold of Sonic's fur in that state as the hero flew up to face Metal Sonic. He, too, had looked like that and it made him recall Maria's soft, sweet-smelling hair.

"Shadow, do you like this scent?" She'd taken a shower that morning and flaunted her hair in his face. "It's vanilla shampoo! Grandfather got it for me from earth just yesterday! I think it smells great!"

It did, but he hadn't told her at that time. Now he regretted it.

Did GUN even bury her? Had they been decent enough for that?

Shadow decided to do whatever it took to find her grave, or to learn what had become of her.

After the incident with Metal Sonic, Shadow cut ties with everyone and drifted out on his own. He'd not forgotten his promise to Maria of revenge, only, less and less was he convinced that she'd asked him to do such an evil thing for her.

He felt odd in his own skin, like he was wrong. Or, it might have been because no one who saw him and knew who, what he was, dared approach him. He was feared, hated; and he let himself be used by GUN. Shadow used them, too, to learn that the prisoners on the ARK had been disintegrated. Most of them, anyway. Boiling in anger, he abandoned his position and wandered away from the city.

Frustration preyed at him and opened him up to the influence of some strange, monstrous alien named Black Doom, who so coincidentally arrived just at that moment. The swarms of his so-called soldiers repulsed Shadow, but he felt an odd attachment to the growly alien who told him he was one of them. Destroy all the humans. Everyone. Get his revenge. No one had ever loved him or understood him like Black Doom would. From the second of his first breath, the humans had lied to him, for Shadow was a hybrid. Their alien blood was what had made him so strong. They were his family. Not humans, and not even Maria.

For a while, Shadow longed for Black Doom to be right about everything. He was in such pain, that he let his guard down. Then, that happy voice pierced in his thoughts once more.

"Do you ever feel your own heart beating? It beats because you're alive, Shadow. Don't let the scientists make you mad, if they treat you badly. I'll make up for all them!"

Maria's allure of seeking the good grounded Shadow anew. Finally, he resisted Black Doom, drawn back to those decades, shoving his evil tendencies far down into his soul, forcing himself to keep all his rage in check because of her voice. Black Doom had used him like everyone else had! The alien was no different. Blood wasn't the most important nor the only factor that determined who his family was. Shadow had decided his path.

She had him sitting in her lap one evening, crying and apologizing, "I'm sorry, Shadow. Please don't hate humans. They make mistakes and many of them don't have good hearts, but many more do! I know how strong you are and how upset you get, but please, please always forgive them. For me, Shadow, always give them a second chance. And, I may not be around much longer, but I'll always love you, Shadow. In any place, in any time, in any life, I'll always love you."

Therefore, no matter how much pleasure Shadow took out of killing humans and watching them slowly, painfully succumb to death, he wasn't able to obey Black Doom in the end. Maria's purity had too strong a hold on his heart.

Newly enraged at being turned into a pawn of some wicked scheme, Shadow dared disobey his so-called father. The chaos emeralds were his! Sucking in air, he transformed into his super form and let out all his misdirected rage at the humans on that wretched alien.

Did he look like gold? Would Maria have said so? Would she have been proud of him for pushing back the demons?

After he travailed and prevailed and hurried away to some private place to lick his wounds, Shadow wept. Even he hated and feared himself, for his baser instincts and delight in causing misery. What kind of beast had he become? And it wasn't because of how powerful he was. Any person could become a monster and he'd all but actually crossed that line. Being ultimate only guaranteed his physical strength and chaos abilities. He'd already learned he made mistakes, and now he'd just learned he could also be deceived.

He realized he was still super, which made him feel even stranger. With a sigh, Shadow released the chaos energy and the emeralds immediately scattered to the ends of the earth. He was plain black again, bleeding and weak. It had been his second time to harness such power and he sorely wished Maria could have seen it.

And, with some moments of silence, Shadow could finally think carefully over all he'd learned about himself, his origins, and his purpose of existing. He'd been created to be a conduit to heal Maria. His blood had been supposed to heal her NIDS. More times than he could remember, the scientists had extracted the dark liquid and given some of it to Maria. No one had known if his blood would have helped her. Their technology of the time hadn't allowed them to dig that deep into inspecting her blood afterwards. Only, could everyone hope.

He sighed. No wonder none of the scientists had allowed him to see his own blood. It was far darker than hedgehog blood. Alas, he couldn't change his physical composition, and so he had to move past how disgusted he felt about himself.

Maria—she'd been cut off the field of living before Gerald had been able to progress through enough time to discover if his blood had been any benefit to her dying body at all.

His other purpose? To be a weapon, thanks to GUN's requirement.

Shadow sourly chuckled. Well, he'd certainly fulfilled that latter role. Everyone would fear him far more than before, now that the rawest push of his power in super form had been filmed and would be repeated endlessly all over the world, in addition to his slaughtering of people and his vicious tendencies to obliterate anything in his way.

Put out with everything, Shadow rolled painfully onto his back and let out a laborious sigh. Would Maria tell him to forgive himself and just try to do better? Or would she gasp in repulsion and also flee from him?

He hurt in his heart and tried not to think. Lately, he'd done too much of that and it hadn't ended well for him. For now, he'd just sleep.

After, there were no more bursts of terror to stop. Just flashes of nonsense: games, predictable evenings, GUN missions with Rouge and Omega, Eggman always attempting some outlandish scheme that Sonic obliterated. Occasionally, something of minor interest caused Shadow to deviate his behavior, but he was, overall, passively bored and unimpressed with the entire world, this world Maria had dreamed to touch. Without her, even the tallest waterfall and the brightest rainbow gave him no pause.

His character had been formed by pain, misery, and suspicions; and most of all, by the shattering death of Maria, whom he could never replace. Those who attempted to gain his trust and befriend him were nuisances and he never let them peel even one layer of his emotional defenses away. Everyone was kept at arm's length, and he protected his heart that way, always putting forth a sullen, uptight exterior.

Only one person had been given the privilege to put her hand on his chest and feel his heart and tell him how real and special he was. That was all over. Now he was just the ultimate life form to be feared.

Shadow still despised humans, but his hate had simmered down into a much softer dislike, and he'd placed his past behind him. Or so he thought.

One slow, late spring afternoon, he was awoken by Rouge insisting he had to embark on a mission to infiltrate one of Eggman's bases. What he'd been told was that the doctor had broken into a highly-defended GUN medical research campus and his badniks had indiscriminately stolen all the classified technology they could. All such GUN secrets had to be destroyed. There was no way GUN was able to fetch any of it back, as it was held hostage deep in one of Eggman's fortresses.

Inwardly rolling his eyes, Shadow and Rouge had taken off for the base in question. They encountered the usual resistance of badniks and an endless barrage of incoming projectiles of outrageous destruction. With his speed and heightened senses and reaction, Shadow dodged and destroyed every missile swirling at him with relative ease. The duo made it far into the base, to where they picked up GUN technology signatures. Just a few minutes after, they arrived at a large, sterile chamber full of the stolen wares.

In the midst of boxes and missiles and sundry pieces of this and that were a few stasis chambers, not unlike both of the ones Shadow had slept in for many years. The sight of the bulky, tall things with the green-toned fluid took him aback and he almost bristled. As Rouge was present, Shadow restrained any emotional display.

The two were setting timed explosives in all corners of the room, for if GUN couldn't retrieve their valuables, no one else should have them. In the middle of it, Shadow felt an uncanny coldness fall upon him and he whirled his eyes up to one of the stasis chambers set three rows behind the others. There was something floating in it! Curious, he slid between them and stopped at the pod.

"Shadow, if I never get to go to earth, please live for us both. Be happy and don't ever take anything you see and experience for granted. Every second is precious, good or bad. Please, learn as you live; grow, make friends, smile and feel no more pain."

In agony, Shadow pressed his hands to the metal base of the chamber, eyes glimmering with a thin line of tears. So much for hiding displays of emotion. The figure above him was a phantom that had died decades ago! Ripped, stolen, flung out into the space between space where souls went when they had no body to reside in. This—she-

Rouge came over, "Shadow, how long are we setting the timers for? One minute?" She paused, "What's wrong?" Then she looked where his eyes were stuck to and let out an audible gasp. "Is that a girl floating in there? Is she alive? Why would GUN have a girl in stasis?"

Shadow felt her push him aside but he couldn't stop staring at the floating body.

Another gasp, "She is alive! Shadow, we can't leave her here. I'll get her out and if she survives, we can ask her why she was in there. There's no other way. We can't carry the entire pod out."

There was a beep and a hiss and the green-toned fluid spilled everywhere. Shadow watched it flow around his shoes, absently reminded of the disorientation he'd felt both times he'd awoken, and even more so of his struggles during the first week of his life. It was like some primordial goo. He hated it.

Above, there was some kind of a thump and Shadow bolted up to the front of the pod, arms before him, to catch the falling body. He succeeded, in disbelief that the girl had weight, was breathing. This was some horrendous trick! There was no way she was alive. She'd been shot-

A cackling laugh erupted all around them. The ground began to rumble tremendously.

"Since you two were so insistent to break into my base, I'll just kill you all! I have the seven chaos emeralds, so this will be quite the bang! And don't worry about Maria. She'll never know she was still alive if she dies before she wakes up. She sort of was—well—unintentional extra baggage when I brought all that plunder here! I got the stuff I wanted already, so off you all go! I hope you don't mind, Shadow."

"Well, there's no need to set my timers now," Rouge sighed in annoyance.

A hardness stressed through Shadow. Protectively, he adjusted the wet, sticky, unconscious girl in his arms and rushed for the exit. Away they ran, through the twisted corridors in which they'd come, passing the trail of downed badniks, blown-away doors, and mangled walls on their way.

As they closed in on the grand entry, a tender groan and an exhale distracted Shadow. The girl's lashes fluttered and her searching blue eyes slowly slid open. They were the same, even more bright than he'd recalled, dazed, then focusing up at him. Shadow couldn't give her any kind of relieved acknowledgement. He had to focus on getting them both out alive.

Then, as they came upon the entry, a massive robot blocked them. The seven chaos emeralds were embedded into its chest, providing it an indestructible shield. Shadow and Rouge were forced to stop.

Eggman's voice mocked out again, "Behold, my Chaos Bot! Well, you can see why I named him that. Chaos Bot, make bacon of them, and not the gross turkey kind!"

There was no time to think. Shadow glided to the side of the corridor and placed Maria on the cold metal floor as softly as he could. Only then did he realize she was wearing a one-piece, tight silver body suit. Probably from being dunked into the chamber. Why had they kept her in cryostasis for all these decades? Then—wait, there was no trace of any wound on her body. In fact, as she wearily reached out for him, Shadow noticed how colored and healthy her cheeks were.

With a single motion, Maria slid her fingers through his tuft of fur and slowly ran them down the front of his body, smiling tenderly at him.

Shadow's heart pounded. When Rouge gasped, he spun about and burst at the robot. The machine made to swat him aside, but regardless of the chaos emeralds, Shadow latched onto the arm and pulled so hard, it sparked and ripped. No shield could stop him! Even Eggman had seemed to forget that he could absorb chaos energy. A machine overpowered by chaos emeralds wouldn't hold him back.

Lunging again, he strained for the chest area, succeeding in latching onto the front and ripping one of the emeralds out entirely. That wrecked the machine, which began to spark. Shadow leapt away, hovering in the air, and reached forth for the other emeralds. One by one, they popped out and came to him. So much for that machine. If only Eggman had actually presented a machine worthy of a confrontation. Shadow wanted to sneer.

"Shadow, hurry!" Rouge cried out behind him. "Eggman's blowing everything up!"

Typical. An echo of explosions was growing louder and louder. Shadow could make out the tunnel they'd come from succumbing to the fiery orange of oblivion. In a single swoop, he returned to Rouge and Maria. All seven chaos emeralds were slowly orbiting around him.

Maria was completely awake now, her blue eyes glistening at him. There was love there.

The second slowed for Shadow. He grit his teeth and brought all the chaos emeralds into himself, gasping and unleashing a burst of gold light from his body. The color spilled everywhere and he hovered upward, adjusting a third time to the power coursing through his body.

"Oh, Shadow," Maria whispered in delight. "You're so beautiful!"

The fire was quickly approaching. Shadow wanted to talk with her, but now wasn't the time. But she'd finally seen him like this, and had given him a gift of encouragement no one else could have. So effortlessly, too. Maria had never worked to love him. She'd always been a part of him, understanding that more than he had until now. He felt overwhelmed with happiness that she'd gotten to see him in this form, but then he had to focus.

"Hold on tight," Shadow murmured, picking Maria up and sending a golden sphere of chaos energy around Rouge to protect her.

Maria leaned into him willingly. Whether it was being in his super form or Maria's impossible presence that gave him purpose, Shadow streaked straight up through nearly impenetrable layers of metal, through wires and floor after floor of construction and he didn't stop, didn't barely even breathe, until all three of them were floating far above the massive base. The particular part of the base they'd broken into was just a series of cascading explosions now.

But Shadow wasn't finished. He released Maria into her own golden sphere of loving protection, where she hovered some few feet away.

His heart swelled so much for the precious person he'd found, and then contracted with brilliant rage at Eggman for daring to try to take her away from him again. Even by accident. The man hadn't decided to save her. In fact, he couldn't have cared less that she was his own flesh and blood! So much for family.

Eggman would feel his wrath!

Shadow dragged them both with him, diving and spinning like a dart until he smashed clear through one of the buildings. Skidding, blasting the power source, he jumped back up and out, going on and on, faster and faster, three streaks of gold.

The Egg Fleet was hovering above the base. With his hands free, Shadow blasted chaos energy, cutting through four ships at once. And he threw his body through their cores, ensuring they were completely destroyed. On and on, growling and then screaming, he sliced through vessel after vessel until there were dozens of floating wrecks slowly dropping right atop their master's base. With one last wave of anger, he propelled all three of them through Eggman's mother ship and, as the explosions rattled around them, rose high up above all of it.

The devastation was magnificent. For a minute, he lost himself in all the bursts below of orange and metal clashing on metal. If he was honest with himself, he enjoyed the violence. Eggman more than deserved it! To think that he thought he could have offed the ultimate life form. Even that level of ego far surpassed his own.

Then came a small, girlish voice, "Shadow, come here."

Shadow turned to Maria, who was still floating in the golden sphere. Her hair was still wet and sticky, rather flat, and she fingered some of it away from her temples. She was barefoot, like the last time he'd seen her, but there were no rips on her body suit or blood pooling on her skin. She was smiling, hands open to him.

After witnessing his unbridled rage and all the carnage he could cause in just minutes, she still showed no fear whatsoever. Shadow felt small and relieved that her loving words all those years ago hadn't been empty platitudes. Here she was, eyes twinkling like rich oceans.

Lured, he floated over and entered in with her.

"It's okay. Calm down," she took hold of his golden wrist and softly pulled him to her, scratching his back.

Bliss softened all his anger. The three slowly descended down and away from Eggman's base, like a wishy blown in the wind, so that by the time their feet touched the earth, they were miles and miles away. There was just fields of grass and common, weedy flowers dancing within soft breezes around them now. Serenity expanded in every direction, as if what had just happened had all been a dream.

Except for Shadow, who was still in super form, but growing weary with all of this. He crawled into Maria's lap and as she slowly planted soft kiss after kiss on his temples and cheeks, his fur faded to black. The seven chaos emeralds fell out of him, used up just as he was, and disappeared.

Rouge stood to recover herself and found no words for the bizarre scene before her. She only knew now that the girl had to be Maria, for even she'd seen photographs of her. The display of friendship before her was sort of too much, but she had to interrupt, "Excuse me, just how are you alive?"

Maria seemed to think for a minute, "After I made Shadow leave the ARK, I almost died, but GUN soldiers rescued me. I remember some other GUN scientists saying that the injections of Shadow's blood I'd received had actually started working on my NIDS, but that it was a very slow process. The only way they could cure my disease was to give me time. That's why they put me into stasis. And, I think being able to study if I was healing for all those years was valuable information for GUN. I guess in a way, I was a guinea pig?"

"So, you're all better now?" Rouge asked with surprise.

"I—I think so. I certainly feel fine! I guess it was a trade-off: GUN used me to study the effects of Shadow's blood in my body, but it came out fine!" Maria presented a hopeful smile. "Huh?"

She turned back to the form in her lap, who was beside himself, though sitting quietly with his hands in his lap. His eyes held a distanced gloss of shock.

Maria giggled, "Shadow, it's okay. I'm pretty sure I'm all better now, thanks to you! Don't cry."

Too late. And that was just too much for Rouge. "Well, I'm gonna go back to HQ and write up my report! You two just get lost or something. GUN may want to run tests on you, Maria, and if I'm not fond of the idea, I'm sure neither of you are, either. Also, I don't ever want to see Shadow like this again." With a wave, she jumped into the air and fluttered away.

The grass sighed and Maria cast her fascinated eyes over the earth she still had yet to see. And now she could, with the person she loved the most. She let Shadow cry out as quietly as he could. From her very first memories of his looming form, from when she'd been so small, she recalled that even then he'd disliked emotional vulnerability. So, he sat on her and she patted his back a little and just let the seconds drift by, enthralled by everything she was feeling and seeing.

After a time, his body calmed and she knew he'd finished shedding tears.

"Did you do it, Shadow?" She scratched his ears softly.

He uncomfortably looked into her face, "Do what?"

"What you promised me."

He couldn't recall what that was she was talking about. She just—her body—her there—he was overwhelmed and could barely speak simple sentences. Now he'd also learned that the ultimate life form could be so stunned, that he could be mentally knocked off his guard. Less and less did ultimate mean anything to him.

Maria scanned the fields again and sighed happily. Shadow stepped out of her lap and set himself down to her right, absently plucking up a few flowers.

"Do you still like this?" As she asked it, Maria began to run her fingers through his spines. That was when Shadow melted a second time by pressing his hand atop her leg, utterly quiet.

He wouldn't let himself emotionally weaken again, so he kept his eyes closed for his own sanity.

Her persistent tone was soft, "Answer me, Shadow, did you keep your promise to me?"

That time, her question registered and he felt guilty. He had—in the end, but not as well as he should have. Times had been confusing and painful for him. No one had tried or wanted to understand him and he'd almost driven himself to the edges of his own soul.

But technically he had, and still intended to keep his promise, and so his slow words came out truthfully, "Yes, Maria, I did. Imperfectly, but I did."

"No one's perfect, not even the ultimate life form," she smiled, no judgment in her face. "Tell me everything, Shadow. Take me all over the world. Show me all your favorite, secret places of beauty."

"What makes you think I care about beautiful places?" He crossed his arms, but continued to let her pamper him.

Maria only giggled and tugged on one of his spines, "Beautiful people go to beautiful places."

Shadow stared up at her with shimmering eyes and all the decades they'd been apart melted away into inconsequence. His facade of a hard exterior was all cracked and broken with Maria. His heart unlocked only for her this second time and he released freely decades of emotions he'd been piling.

Slowly, he took both of her hands as he sat there, having turned himself to face her. "I made friends, Maria; I hurt people, too, but I also saved everyone more than once." He paused, thinking, "Yet—only now do I feel happy."

Maria squeezed his hands, "I don't care what happens or where we go, as long as you're with me. I missed you Shadow. You were always in my sweetest dreams. Your love was the purest love from the purest soul I'd ever known. You're my family."

I took liberties. Comments please. Yes, I'm fully acquainted with all of Shadow's story. Two songs are this story: "Alan Walker – Spectre" and "Dash Berlin ft. Jonathan Mendelsohn - Better Half Of Me".