Part Two

Shadow's been laying in the guest-room for a long time now. He looks like he's asleep, so no one's wanted to disturb him. Mr. Tanaka said he was burned pretty bad, especially on his back. I feel awful about it. I mean, this happened because I decided to take a chance and come back in Eggman's ship. If I hadn't listened to Eggman, we'd probably both be better off.

After Ella treated my head and my hands, I decided to just sit here and think for a while. She and Mr. Tanaka are the only ones home right now, but Grandpa should be back soon. And nothing's been said to Mom and Dad yet. I thought it'd be better for them to just find me when they come home, instead of trying to explain on the phone. Anyway, before we have our reunion, there's some things I need to sort out in my mind.

How did Shadow get here? He came after the time limit Eggman set, didn't he? There really must be another way to pass between the worlds, one that Shadow can control.

. . . Sometimes it's easy to forget, but this world---my world---is Shadow's world, too. He didn't come from Sonic's world. And if Eggman's grandfather is from this world, what about Eggman? And the Chao refuge that Mr. Tanaka found years ago? There's more going on than meets the eye. Obviously our worlds have been in contact for decades, even after they split!

And I can't help wondering if there's a way to safely merge the two of them. Something tells me they weren't meant to be apart, no matter what the evidence seems to say. There's other evidence that our worlds could and should be bridged, such as the fact that they used to be one planet.

It's been hours now. I think I'm going to check on Shadow again.

I head down the hall, going to the closest guest-room and pushing the door open. Shadow's still laying in the bed, facing away from me. His back and middle spines are bandaged, but he doesn't act like he's in pain. Maybe I'll leave him alone for now. . . .

"I'm awake."

I nearly jump through the ceiling. "Shadow . . . !"

He keeps staring ahead into the room. "You want to talk to me. Go ahead."

I walk into the room, letting the door shut behind me. "How long have you been awake?" I ask, going around to be in front of him.

He looks at me with those ominous red eyes that have held so much pain and sorrow through the years. "A while," he says. "I heard the door open several times; I just didn't say anything then."

I sit down in a chair by the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine." He just watches me, his bandaged hands resting on the mattress.

"I had a feeling you were going to say that." I sigh, shifting in the chair.

"Why were you in that ship?" He's direct, as always.

I look down. ". . . Eggman told me I had to go right then or I might not get another chance to get back to my world," I say. "He said every time we travel between the worlds, it's a fluke, a product of chance."

"And he built the ship."

"Yeah." I look at him again. "I don't know if he knew it would crash. . . ."

"I doubt anyone could know that." He's unmoved. "I could have brought you back."

"You weren't there," I remind him. "And . . . I wouldn't have wanted to ask you, after everything you'd already done."

"There are a lot of things Eggman doesn't know about passing between worlds." Shadow glances to the Chaos Emerald that Mr. Tanaka set on the nightstand by the bed. It's the purple one, the one Shadow took after he first came back during the fight with the Metarex.

". . . Do you know them?" I ask.

"Some." He looks at me. "It isn't something to tamper with. You took an immense risk, both to go to Sonic's world and to come back."

I give a grim nod. "Eggman said I was lucky that I only got my physical age reverted when I went there. I don't know what he thought could've happened instead."

"Some things are better left unknown." Shadow's voice doesn't betray any of his feelings.

". . . Like how you thought Cosmo shouldn't know why you were trying to kill her?" The words just tumble out before I can stop them. I don't know what Shadow will think of Cosmo being brought up right now, especially on this subject.

He stiffens. "I was right, wasn't I?" he says at last. "It was cruel for her to discover the truth."

I look away. Cream told me how devastated Cosmo was at the news that the implant in her eye---one we couldn't remove without seriously hurting her---made her an unwilling spy for the Metarex. Cosmo had even said that it would have been better to die than to live knowing the truth.

". . . If it was me, I'd want to know," I say, "no matter how horrible it would make me feel. Sure, Cosmo was upset when she found out that everything any of us said or did was being broadcast to the Metarex through her. Anyone would be! But she found a new strength after that, when all of us stood by her anyway."

Shadow doesn't say anything now. Instead he studies the quilt. I wonder if he's thinking about the same thing I am. After Cosmo sacrificed herself by restraining Dark Oak while Sonic and Shadow attacked him, it was Shadow who desperately led the attempt to try to revive her. But even the Chaos Regeneration power couldn't do that.

". . . We thought you were dead," I tell him.

He looks to me questioningly.

"First we thought you died after saving Earth from Space Colony ARK," I remind him. "Then you came back, fighting the Metarex . . . even though you refused to work with us until the end. And you used Chaos Control to stop the planet eggs' power. . . ." I look away. "Even Eggman wondered if you were gone. And Rouge. . . . We could all tell she was worried."

Shadow stays quiet so long I wonder if he's still awake. I sneak a glance back at him. He's looking at the quilt again, his mind a long way off from his body.

"It seems I'm very difficult to kill," he tells me. "I don't have the answers for you. If I ever had them, that knowledge is now sealed away." He glances to the window, at the rays of the setting sun shining on the curtains and the furniture. "Part of me feels invincible. Yet at the same time, I know I can't really be infallible."

". . . You were created to be the Ultimate Lifeform," I say. "I don't know exactly what that means, or if you really can't die, but . . ." I grip the knees of my pants. "I wish you wouldn't challenge it anymore. . . ."

". . . I have a memory of Maria pleading with me to help people," he replies. "If the only way I can do that is to place my life on the line, then I will do it."

I look to him. Before he remembered Maria's true wish, he still thought he was fulfilling what she wanted. For him, that was the only thing that mattered; he didn't care if he died, as long as he granted what she wanted. And even though he knows now what she really hoped he would do, he still feels that fulfilling her wish is the only important thing.

". . . You didn't come here to talk about that," he says now.

That's mostly true. I did want to talk about that too, though I had something else on my mind when I came in here. But while I know what I really want to say, I'm afraid to say it. I'm not sure whether I'm more afraid of the answer . . . or of how mad he might get. But he's looking at me, knowing that I'm not saying what's really on my mind. I'd better just come right out with it.

"Shadow . . . I've been wondering something for a long time now," I say at last. "Do . . . do you hate me?"

His eyes get wide and surprised. I've never seen him look like that before. But just as soon as the look's there, it's gone.

"No," he says then.

He says that, but it's not very satisfying.

"Then . . . why do you treat me like you do?" Now that I've got started, all of my feelings are coming out. "I mean . . . you save me if I'm in trouble, but you act like you don't want anything to do with me."

His eyes darken. "I said I don't hate you," he says, "but I don't care about you, either. You're nothing to me."

I rock back, probably not hiding that I'm hurt. But . . . something still doesn't add up. Once I get over the initial shock, I can clearly see it. No matter how much Shadow insists he doesn't care, I can't believe it.

"Funny," I say. "I thought you didn't lie, Shadow."

He glares at me. "I'm not lying," he growls.

I'm really glad looks can't kill.

"Maybe you think you aren't," I say. "Maybe you even lie to yourself. But if what you say is true, you wouldn't help me at all."

His look doesn't lighten. "I help you in order to fulfill Maria's wish. That's why I help everyone."

I know that's true. I'm the one who helped him remember Maria's wish back on the ARK. But I give him a sad look. "Helping people wasn't the only part of Maria's wish," I tell him. "She wanted you to live and be happy, too."

He grips the comforter, refusing to answer. I wait, just watching him. It needed to be said, but . . . how is he taking it? Is he going to be angry at me now?

". . . I know she did," he finally says. "But . . . fulfilling that part of her wish is much more difficult. Especially when history repeats itself."

My eyes widen. "History . . . repeats itself?"

And suddenly it all makes sense.

"You're so afraid it will happen again," I realize.

He sits up, glowering at me. "I bring destruction," he tells me. "I was created with extensively lethal abilities, but even when I'm not using them, I am a harbinger of death. Anyone who stays in contact with me will die! It happened to Maria. It happened to Molly. I won't let it happen to you."

Once again I'm stunned. This is the last thing I thought he would tell me. The pain in his eyes right now is greater than I've ever seen it before.

"Shadow . . . it wasn't your fault!" I exclaim. "About either of them!"

"Maria was killed because the government thought I was too dangerous to live," he retorts. "She was shot in front of my eyes while I was in the escape pod. I couldn't do anything! I was right there, but I couldn't save her.

"Molly was killed because her will to live was crushed by her comrades' betrayal. When they joined forces with the Metarex and it looked like there was no hope for her planet, she flew her plane directly into the line of fire! And I watched, helpless." His eyes flash. "I won't do that again! I'll never do that again!"

His voice is rising. I'm just sitting here, horrified. I don't know what to say.

"You mean nothing to me because I won't let you mean anything to me. That's why I won't stay here. I won't subject you to what they suffered!"

I finally find my voice. "Shadow. . . ." I still hardly know what to say to him. "Even . . . even trying our hardest doesn't mean we'll always be able to save the people we want to save the most. Sometimes there's nothing we can do. That doesn't mean you're at fault or that you should close yourself off from everyone!"

He struggles off the bed. "I will do what I must! I'm leaving." He trips and stumbles, falling to his hands and knees. He growls in pain as his injured palms push into the short carpet.

I drop down next to him. "This isn't what you should do!" I protest. "Maria wouldn't want it. Neither would Molly!" I reach to try to help him up.

He thrusts out his hands to push me away. "Stay back!" he growls. "You know what I'm capable of."

But I hold my ground. "I'm not afraid of you, Shadow," I tell him. "You say you don't care, that I mean nothing to you. The real truth is that you care so much, you're afraid of it. You don't want me to suffer like Maria and Molly; you just admitted that! And you wouldn't feel that way if you didn't care about me a lot."

For a moment he kneels there, shaking as he hold his hands up in a threatening way. But then, defeated, he lowers them. ". . . All I've ever done is hurt you," he says.

I shake my head. "That isn't true," I protest. "You've saved me! You saved me several times. I would've died if you hadn't been there." I look at him. "Shadow, you're my friend, even if you won't admit it."

He doesn't answer. I look at him, trying to judge whether I dare approach him another time. For now, he seems subdued. At last I reach out, trying to hug him. He freezes in my arms, too stunned to do anything.

****

My thoughts are a tangled whirl.

How did this happen? How did this boy manage to see what I'd tried to conceal from even myself? And now that he has, what am I going to do about it? I won't be able to hide it from myself any more.

Yes, I care about him. I want to protect him, just as I wanted to protect Maria and Molly. And I still feel that I should not get too close. If the government learns I'm back, they might come for me again. Innocent people could be killed, like this boy.

"Shadow, it's okay if you stay here. Please believe me when I say that. . . ."

"You just don't understand how cruel people can be," I try to retort. "Maria didn't, either." But even when she experienced it firsthand, she didn't lose her faith in humans, as I did. She told me to give them a chance, despite their selfishness.

"I've known cruel people," he says, "but I know it wasn't anything like what you saw. And I know I can't promise nothing bad will happen to me . . . but the people of Earth are really grateful for what you did to stop Space Colony ARK. They still talk about you and honor your sacrifice. They would accept and love you if they found out you're still alive!"

For some reason, I haven't tried to pull away. He holds onto me as he continues.

"Please, Shadow. . . . I don't want you to go again. . . ! You think it doesn't matter what happens to you, that no one will care if you're gone. But you're wrong. You're wrong, Shadow!"

Something in his words and voice reach my heart. I honestly don't understand why this---why I---mean so much to him. But . . . he is one of the only people who has ever wanted so much for me to be around---actually, the only one other than Maria. And I know he's right. Maria wanted me to find happiness . . . though I'm not entirely sure how to do that. Life is so uncertain. How can I be happy when I can't escape the fear that something drastic will go wrong and someone else will die?

Yet, in spite of my feelings, another part of my mind is entertaining a strange fantasy. What if perhaps, at least for a while, I could try to relax here and not worry? I doubt it could be accomplished, but . . . if it could, I would like that. Even without all of my memories, I can sense that I have not experienced a peaceful existence since I was aboard the ARK with Maria.

It's only in my mind, but still, I can hear her encouraging me. She would be happy and want me to stay.

"Everything will be alright, Shadow."

At last I look up at the boy . . . my friend. "Fine, then," I say. "So be it . . . Chris."

And slowly I return the embrace.