Sorry, this is a short chapter, but it had to be written and it didn't fit with the previous or the next, so I let it stand alone.

Chapter 17

Crying in the Night

It was too late in the night, too early to be awake, but the ebony hedgehog suddenly found himself unable to sleep. Perhaps it was the uncomfortable tilt of the roof he had chosen to spend the night on that had woken him. Perhaps it was the incessant chirping of the crickets in the grass. Perhaps it was the nightmare of his last day on the ARK replaying itself in his dormant mind.

Shadow sat up slowly and considered all of these options. No, he concluded. It's something else. He had slept in worse places than on the roof of a strange building in a strange world. The crickets had been what lulled him to sleep in the first place and would probably not have woken him. And he had slept plenty of nights through the nightmares—they never left him.

Then he heard it—a small, fragile, broken sound that carried from below him. For a moment he hesitated. He was Shadow the Hedgehog, an iron pillar, and that sound should not affect him, should not draw his attention.

But it did.

Shadow leapt gracefully from the roof of the Pokémon Center, landing on the ground below with hardly a sound, and slipped through the darkness towards the source until he came to the sign posted to welcome travellers and newcomers to Celestic Town. There, nestled against the leg of the greeting, was a familiar yellow batch of fur, shaking with sadness. Tears fell from its eyes as it gazed out into the darkness, calling for its lost friend. Though the creature's language was not coherent, the hedgehog understood its cries—they were the sounds of his own soul.

"Pika…" the Pokémon whispered sadly. "Pika…chu…"

For several moments he paused to consider his next course of action. The animal was unaware of his presence, as he realized he and the rest had been unaware of Pikachu. In all the excitement of the previous day, no one had noticed that, as Ash had gone off to destroy the world, he had left behind his truest and most loyal companion. Now the creature sat here, alone, crying and confused, waiting for a friend who was not coming back.

It doesn't know, Shadow realized.

The hedgehog's eyes darted back and forth, then behind, to see whether anyone else was around, but even when he had confirmed that he was alone it took several moments longer to decide how to proceed. A cough would be too forced, an "ahem" too needy, and an "are you alright?" too out of character. He was just about to give up when a small twig snapped underfoot as he turned and the creature's ears perked up. It turned quickly and caught Shadow about to slink away.

Pikachu stared at him, silent and sad, so that the poor hedgehog was at a loss of what to do. He shifted awkwardly, mentally adding this moment to the list of reasons he doesn't show sentiment, and finally managed to regain his composure. Instead of backing away, he straightened and stepped forward, looking out into the darkness next to the Pokémon.

"I've lost someone, too."

Pikachu looked up at him, tears still streaming down its cheeks though its sobs quieted. "Pi?"

Shadow smiled sadly at the memory of Maria, both long past and recent. "She was my best friend…my only friend. We were inseparable—like you and Ash." He paused. "But she was taken from me, a long time ago. And no matter what I did, I couldn't stop it."

He looked down as the creature placed a gentle paw on his leg. His eyes met Pikachu's, and he found reflected there the image of his own brokenness, of his own fear as he had drifted in space moments after seeing Maria gunned down before his eyes.

His heart took a strong, steady beat and determination flooded his veins and reached his tongue. "But I will stop this."

Pikachu looked at him, wide eyes shining in the darkness. For several moments they watched each other, reading the other's soul, until the creature, quite unexpectedly, leapt up into Shadow's arms and snuggled up against him with the trust of a lonely cat.

Never having cared much for cats—or any pet, for that matter—Shadow stared, surprised, at the bundle he now held that still shook with silent sobs. Half of him wanted to drop Pikachu, to reprimand it with a silent glare for daring to assume such a friendly position mere days after it had worked with Ash to hurt him, but he couldn't. He couldn't because, even though this world was foreign and this creature was alien and he had experienced nothing but suffering since his arrival, he realized in this moment that he had a responsibility to Pikachu, as he had a responsibility to Oak and Dawn and Sonic and Rouge and all of the others who slept in the Pokémon Center for the final night before their journey.

Nothing had changed—all of this was his fault.

He cleared his throat awkwardly and Pikachu looked up. "Let's, uh, not make this a habit, okay?"

The Pokémon smiled and nodded, dispersing the last of its tears with a stubby paw. "Pika!"

Shadow caught the corner of his lip creeping upwards in a smirk as the creature nuzzled back in and quickly brushed it off, already imagining what his fellow Mobians would think of him had they witnessed the past few moments. "Why Shadow, you're going soft," Rouge would tease, and Sonic would add a cheeky, "Oh yeah, Shadow's just a big teddy bear."

He looked to the sky, at the stars and the moon so clearly visible in the pristine air. Not soft, no, he thought to himself. He was the Ultimate Life Form. Ultimate Life Forms don't go soft. But they do keep their promises, and right then, Shadow made a promise to himself, to the world, and to Pikachu. He would find a way to get the Chaos Emeralds. He would find a way to bring Ash back. He would find a way to get everyone home to Mobius. He would fix this.

He would fix this.