This story was initially inspired by another one shot which I wrote a while back, entitled Judgements, however this story does not happen within the context of my Chaos Mythologies series. If you're interested in reading Judgements or Chaos Mythologies, then please check for them on my profile. This story focuses upon Shadow and upon the fake memories he has inside of his head. It's my theory that his creator, desperate to ensure that Shadow was willing to avenge the death of his granddaughter, inserted memories into Shadow's mind atop the ones that already existed – memories to make everything he had been through seem that little bit more cold and unfair. To give Shadow more motivation to fight for Maria. Of course, Robotnik failed to take into account a lot of things which might affect the way Shadow thinks...
Meh, it's a bit melodramatic but then again, it is about Shadow.
This story takes place in some vague, unspecified future AU when the Sonic team is back on earth.
42. You're Not Alone, Amy Grant.
Maria (Mah REE ah) Gender: female. Origin: Hebrew. Meaning: Bitter.
Origin: Latin. Meaning: Latinate form of Mary
* * *
He has learned to live in the moment.
It's the only way creature like him can live, with all that power contained and suppressed in one body. Unlike some people, Shadow doesn't need the Chaos Emeralds to know that he can destroy this person quite, quite easily.
'Please, don't do it... You can't...'
He will. He can. He has both the ability and the means. In his hands, he grips the collor of a man who at first, seemed too ld to be who he was. A man with greying hair and frightened eyes.
He has seen those eyes only once before in all his life. When that man killed Maria.
His name is Shadow the Hedgehog. But if no one had thought to give him that name, he would have been known simply as "The Ultimate Life Form". He has to admit that name probably fits him far better than the melodramatic moniker given to him by a little girl (she was nine at the time; he has a clear memory of birthday candles on a cake wrapped in sterilised plastic, because her mother had sent it from earth, and they hadn't had time to decontaminate it before the party) who had thought it sounded "cool" and "dramatic".
Actually, it seems a lot of the things Maria put into his head were supposed to be "cool" or "dramatic". His memory returned slowly, fragment by fragment, after the battle with Dark Oak. Like the time she'd spent two weeks walking around in one of those "fashionable" skirts (a gift from her mother again; two sizes too big for her and held up with elastic) which had looked more like a giant cotton ball, and rustled loudly when she moved; her grandfather had shook his head in amusement every time she entered the room. Or the time when she talked him into climbing into the mystery tank in Grandpa's laboratory to see what was in there (it had turned out to be the prototype bio-lizard), and then spent the night crying and apologising over and over, when he came out with broken bones.
His bones are broken again now, in the present, with all those memories behind him. Sonic's fault. He had come at Shadow at high speed desperate to stop him from completing his self-proposed mission, but he was neither fast nor strong enough to hold Shadow back. When would he ever learn? The pain of the fractures feels the same as it did then, but now Shadow walks straight through it as easily as if the sharp twinge isn't there. It will heal soon enough, provided he comes out of this alive.
The building they are in is burning, the sky is dark, and Sonic is (or rather, he was; now he's unconscious outside of the building) trying to stop him. Shadow does not begrudge him that. He knows that Sonic is Sonic, and regardless of what happens, he must always be the person that he is. Heroic, determined, and abjectly willing to fight for the life of anyone, good or bad, right or wrong.
But while Sonic can only be Sonic, Shadow too, can only be Shadow.
Sometimes though, Shadow is not sure who he is.
His memories... Conflict. He remembers a day on board the ARK, when the heating and ventilation system broke down and people nearly froze to death in several areas before the Professor could repair the damage. The entire crew had been fine in the end. But in other memories (or rather, other interpretations of the same memory), he recalls that several people had died, their bodies pulled from beneath piles of frozen bed covers, their skin blue and cracked.
On another day Maria caught a cold from a colonist who had been to earth on vacation – for her this had been as good as a death sentence, but Shadow had helped the Professor make her well again within days, using the advanced Heal Units that the Professor had created. In other memories she lies in the hospital wing, white faced and pale for two months, and nearly died seven times over.
In some memories he is a construct for killing and destruction; in others he is a creature created to be a friend, an ally to everyone who showed compassion; he has memories specifically tuned to each aspect of his personality. Slowly, Shadow is learning to choose which of those people he wishes to be – Maria's Shadow, or Professor Robotnik's Shadow.
He understands now why his memories behave this way. He knows that at least half of them are fake, dramatized and melodramatic –and it is simple for him to work out which ones. They are the exaggerated images, constructed and implanted into Shadow's mind by a desperate, bitter old man who had wanted Shadow to behave in a certain way, without question or hesitation.
Shadow isn't sure why the Professor had to be so thorough. He had escaped from his earth prison and summoned Shadow to him, then he had picked through Shadow's memories efficiently and carefully as any neuroscientist, exaggerating (poisoning, twisting) every thought in his head ever so slightly. The Professor in these fake memories feels like an exaggerated image too –Shadow cannot imagine that this resentful, sorrowful old man is the same one who held his granddaughter's hand while she had injection after injection, and reminded him to be calm when he broke a test tube in his grip ("like Maria is, see? Hold it carefully, now, be gentle...").
But really, whether the memories within him are true or not is irrelevant. Maria had been. Maria hadlived and laughed and sobbed, and bled from the mouth until she died, bravely, with a smile on her face. That part, Shadow knows, was not faked or manipulated in its gruesomeness. The Professor hadn't needed to exaggerate that. Maria had died on a cold metal floor, bleeding from the chest and smiling at him; reaching out for him with trembling fingers.
He never saw her die. The capsule ejected him into space long before she must have stopped breathing, and for that he supposed he should be grateful. At least the last memory he has of her is of her smiling through the pain. The Professor had not stooped to manipulating that.
But Maria had died. She had died because of the man whose throat Shadow now holds in a vice grip. Because he killed her.
He doesn't need to pick and choose between his memories. He knows which ones count. The man, whose name he does not know and does not need to know, barely flinches in Shadow's grip. He seems resigned to the fate before him. Resigned to his punishment, and Shadow decides that because of that, he shall have enough mercy to kill the man quickly. A single chaos blast to the heart ought to do it. just enough to draw blood from his mouth, the way Maria had bled.
The door opens through the smoke, splintering and cracking. Somebody staggers into the room, half a shadow, half whole. Someone gasps his name. 'S-Shadow? Shadow, no! Don't...'
Maria's eyes are looking at him through the smoke, from a face which is very much not her own.
'Shadow?' The boy says, half choking on fumes. 'Shadow, listen—'
Leave, boy. The voice is unwelcome. Because it isn't her voice, but if he turns around, the first thing he'll see are eyes that echo hers so precisely that it chills him to the bone. To most normal people the similarity is vague, but Shadow has heightened senses, and to him, the resemblance is an uncanny, uncomfortable reminder. The similarity is less vibrant now that he is older, but nonetheless, the eyes are there. The eyes are just as he had expected them to be, had Maria...
Had she lived to be this old. The voice in his mind finishes. But she didn't.
'No. You have to leave, before the building burns.' Regardless of his anger, the boy is an innocent. He does not want him to die. 'This is something I have to do alone.'
The man in his grip is no longer looking at him. His face is turned downwards, tense and afraid. The boy reaches out and the hands of a twenty three year old man in a sixteen year old body grip his arm tightly.
'But... But you're not. You're not alone! We're right here, Shadow, haven't you worked that out yet?'
'You think that matters?' Shadow snaps, and his voice is loud even over the choking smoke and roaring of the flames. The boy flinches.
The flames are rising now, licking against curtains and doorframes, casting the room in a fluttering orange glare. 'You talk like I can trust your words when I can't. You knew who he was, didn't you? All this time, you know. Or your precious grandfather knew. You knew that this is the man who killed her.'
'I... y-yes.' Chris stammers, choking on fumes, and Shadow isn't sure if he's telling the truth or just saying it to appease him. It doesn't matter. Shadow's grip tightens. He imagines the cracking of bones along this killer's neck. 'We're sorry, we should've said we... He's just an old man now, please, nobody else has to die.'
'What could you know? What could you possibly understand?'
He had not seen the blood, the cold; the memories do not burn in this boy's mind. The similarities are all coincidental and unimportant. There is nothing which can stop him now.
Shadow shifts his grip against the old, still man's throat. There is nothing.
Something glistens in the boy's hand as he holds it up to Shadow's face.
'I understand... this.' the boy whispers.
Shadow blinks, and sees himself. Taking the golden ring, this one and another, out of the boy's hand watching, them glisten as they joined with his body. A grinning golden face. A smiling rose...
There are other memories to call upon. Shadow calls upon them now. He sees a girl with red hair, clutching his hand before flying into the darkness of destruction with a smile for him on her lips. He sees the edge of the universe cast in light and destruction, a rose blooding as it dies. He sees Maria in her Rara skirt, Maria laughing from a hospital bed, Maria crying over his broken bones, Maria's skinned knees, Maria's plastic-wrapped birthday cake, Maria's eyes reflecting back from the face of this boy who looks so much like she did, Maria, Maria, Maria...
'Like Maria is, see? Hold it carefully, now, be gentle.'
Slowly, as if afraid he might break it, Shadow reaches out to take the golden ring from Chris's hand. He grips it tightly, and looks at the boy's face, coated with dust and ash and memories.
Shadow thinks of memories which are real, and memories which are not real. Either way, everyone who had ever lived on board the ARK is dead except for him.
He sees the Professor, rifling through his memories, scribbling equations on a cell wall in desperate urgency. He sees that frail and lonely man, all alone in his grief and rage. What happened to his grandfather?
Killing this man will not change those memories. Not the ones that are fake, and not the ones which are real either.
Shadow makes his decision, raises the hand holding the golden ring to the burning ceiling, and speaks to words under his breath.
A second later, there is nobody left in the building, as it slowly burns to the ground, taking the last remnants of history with it.
The moment that I looked at you
I recognized the killing truth
You really think there's no way out
But if you let me, I can help you now
Through all these shattered emotions, there's
A lesson to learn...
So come on let me hold you closer,
Love can sooth what love has burned.
You got to remember – you're not alone in this world.
Always remember – you're never alone.