Sonic X

The Black Arms Project

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! Picking up where Right Back Where We Came left off, this is my version of a season 4 of Sonic X. It adapts the game Shadow the Hedgehog, but of course certain plot points have been adjusted to fit the Sonic X verse. There are some slight hints to my other (unfinished) Sonic X story When Autumn Comes, but it is not required reading. Many thanks to everyone who has assisted with plot help, especially Northeastwind and Kaze!

Chapter One

I'm Here

For most, fifty years is a long period of time. It is more than half the lifespan of an average human.

For one who has lived for millennia, it is a mere moment.

But still I have long waited for this day, when our agreement will be fulfilled at last. It has now been almost seven years overdue. Our trump card has been missing. The harbinger of destruction has been out of its regular orbit, disturbed by an imbalance in the space-time continuum. Are these events connected? Almost assuredly.

Now, on the eve of the fifty-seventh year, our---my---greatest creation has returned. And upon his arrival, my supreme weapon has regained its pathway to annihilation.

Victory will be mine.

****

The red-and-black hedgehog crossed to the window, looking over the immense Thorndyke property. His crimson eyes narrowed as he studied the individual aspects. The grass was lush and green, the kind children loved to run through or to just lay in to enjoy a nice day. The water in the swimming pool sparkled, catching the reflection from above. The sun-bathed tennis court looked far too hot to be enjoyable for humans at the moment. If he played tennis, he would not likely be bothered. The trees waved and swayed, entranced by the peaceful breeze. Everything looked so perfect, so unassuming, as if nothing could ever change its tranquil nature.

But it could all be destroyed in an instant. He knew that all too well, after his idyllic days with Maria had come to a sudden, tragic close. And no matter how Chris tried to convince him it would be alright if he stayed here, he could not fully believe it. Something would happen to Chris sooner or later and it would be his---Shadow's---fault.

He looked down at his normally gloved, but currently bare, hands. They were mostly healed now; skin and fur were growing back and concealing the scars from his burns. His back and middle spines were likewise recovering. And Chris was completely healed, since his injuries had not been as severe.

Chris would be dead if he had not come. That was a strange realization, since he had seriously hurt Chris in the past---and on more than one occasion. But Chris still believed in him and the goodness within him.

If Chris did not, no one would; Shadow did not believe in himself. A weapon of destruction. . . . That was all he was in the end. No matter how Chris and others tried to humanize him, they would eventually have to destroy him for their own safety.

Still . . . Maria had told him that he was created to bring hope to humanity, not to cause destruction. Maria had been the granddaughter of his creator, so surely she would know what Gerald Robotnik had been planning.

Wouldn't she?

He stared into the vastness of the sky. She could never tell him now. He would have to find the answers on his own. Chris had tried to reassure him, but he had not been there fifty-seven years ago. He did not know why Gerald Robotnik had decided to create the Ultimate Lifeform. He was as much in the dark as Shadow himself.

The hedgehog leaned against the side of the window, pushing the curtain to the side to get a clearer view of the backyard. The hired gardener was driving around in his lawn-mower, which was far too noisy for Shadow's liking. But he continued to look outside anyway, into the mysterious clusters of trees and clouds and sky, as if they could give him the answers he longed to have.

"Who am I?" he whispered.

The late-summer breeze blew through the screen, gently tousling his fur and moving his spikes. But instead of being relaxed, he stiffened. Something ominous had carried through the air, something meant for him and him alone. And at the same time, it felt as if the entire world was suddenly at the mercy of some unknown being.

In the next moment, the feeling was gone. Shadow's eyes narrowed. Had he imagined it? No . . . it had pierced him to his bones. And now there was a voice, a vague voice, calling to him in his mind.

Shadow the Hedgehog. . . . I can give you what you seek.

He glared into the sky again. "I doubt that," he growled, only half to himself. "Whoever you are, you feel evil." Evil like the Metarex. And Shadow had risked everything to stop them.

Evil is subjective, Shadow. As you should already know.

"Save it," Shadow retorted. "I don't appreciate your invasion into my mind. Just tell me who you are."

We will meet soon. Very soon.

Then the voice was gone, as if it had never been there, either. But Shadow was not going to be fooled. He turned away from the window, letting the curtain fall back into place.

Whoever that had been was very cocky and arrogant. Shadow did not relish the thought of any meeting with him. Yet, just in case the claims were true, he had to investigate. His identity was obviously well-known by the intruder in his mind. It was possible that the stranger knew of Shadow's past as well.

But would he even tell Shadow the truth about it, if he did know?

That was something Shadow would have to judge for himself.

The half-open door creaked the rest of the way into the room, bringing Shadow to complete attention. His entire body tensed as he whirled and stared at the doorway, prepared for an attack. But then he slackened, the dangerous fire in his eyes extinguishing as he beheld Chris.

Chris relaxed too, having been taken aback by the intense look on his friend's face. "Hey Shadow," he greeted. "How are you doing?"

"Fine," Shadow said, even as the wheels in his head continued to turn.

Did that character know where Shadow was staying? The last thing he wanted was to lead someone deadly here. He had taken on a new determination to protect Chris, to ensure that what had happened to Maria would not be repeated in any way, shape, or form. Maybe he had been wrong to linger here at all. Even though he had been badly injured in the explosion, he should have listened to his instincts and gone off to nurse his wounds on his own.

Chris came further into the room, regarding Shadow in concern. "I don't know, you don't seem fine," he said. "You acted so tense when I came in."

Shadow looked away. Chris wished that he could read Shadow's feelings and thoughts, at least some of the time---but anyone could have seen that display of anxiety.

Chris let the door shut behind him. "Your burns are getting better," he noted with relief. He had unwrapped Shadow's back not that long ago, and though the skin looked tender and the fur was just beginning to grow back, it was definitely an improvement over what it had looked like several days ago.

Shadow grunted. "I was treated well," he said.

Chris nodded. "Mom and Dad are really grateful to you, you know," he said.

That was an understatement. Linsey had been so overjoyed to find Chris safe that she had cried. Nelson had told Shadow that he was welcome to stay as long as he wanted. They both knew Shadow had already meant something special to Chris, after all that he had said about the events on Space Colony ARK. But they had never expected that they would meet Shadow personally. Until they had come home and discovered the mysterious hedgehog in one of the guest-rooms, they had believed him dead.

"Of course," Chris hurried to add, "I'm grateful too." And he still felt guilty, believing himself to be at fault for Shadow's injuries. He should have never listened to Eggman and agreed to come home in his ship. If Shadow had not come . . .

In fact, why had Shadow come? How had he known? That was something Chris still did not understand.

He looked at the hedgehog questioningly. ". . . Shadow, how did you know I was in trouble?" he asked.

A frown crossed the other's features. "I don't know," he said. "I sensed something wasn't right, so I used Chaos Control to travel to where you were." His eyes took on a far-away look. "It was the same feeling I had when the soldiers stormed the ARK . . . and right before Molly flew her plane at the Metarex." His expression hardened. "A feeling of nothing except impending tragedy and death." And it was what he feared more than anything else---people dying around him whom he should have been able to save.

Chris swallowed hard. "Oh. . . ." He racked his mind, trying to think of something to say, but it would not come.

Shadow said nothing now, instead choosing to half-turn and gaze out the window.

Chris frowned as he watched his friend. Shadow was so different from Sonic. While Sonic was open and cheerful, Shadow was aloof and serious. Sometimes he came across as brooding or even cold. And he could be violent when angry. But Chris was not afraid of him---not now. He had to admit that he had been fearful when Shadow had pursued him after he had taken Chaos Emeralds from Dr. Eggman. Shadow had not been reluctant to use his Chaos Spear attack on Chris then, and for the first time during their misadventures in space, Chris had realized that Shadow could and would very easily hurt him. And he could not help wondering if Shadow would have still attacked if he had remembered everything.

Not that he remembered everything now. But at least he did not trust Eggman.

What had Shadow been like on the ARK, before tragedy had struck? It was almost impossible to imagine him being anything but solemn. Still, he must have been different then. He must have been happy, without any idea of the evil that people were capable of committing. When his world had been invaded and destroyed, Maria killed in front of his eyes, it must have permanently scarred and changed him.

". . . I won't be able to stay indefinitely."

Chris snapped back to the present at Shadow's words, pierced by this announcement. "You won't?" he said, his heart sinking. "But . . . why? I thought . . ." He trailed off. He had thought that Shadow was going to try it for a while and see how it worked out, and as far as he could tell, nothing had gone amiss during that time.

"I still don't know who I am." Shadow turned to look back at the boy. "I won't find that out here."

Chris shook his head, still reeling. "I still have those pages I copied from Gerald Robotnik's diary," he protested. "Maybe if we looked them over some more . . ."

"What you copied doesn't make much sense on its own," Shadow interrupted. "According to you, Eggman has the rest of the diary. I'm going to have to get it from him." And he would have to meet with this unknown entity, just to see what it wanted. How had it managed to tap into his mind? It was deeply troubling him the more he thought about it.

Chris frowned, watching him. "You'll go back into Sonic's world?" he said.

Shadow nodded. "And don't ask if you can come with me," he said, more harshly than he had intended. "The answer would be No."

Chris's frown deepened. There was something Shadow was not telling him.

"I'll find my own way back," he said then. "But I'll do better than I did last time. This time I'll find a way to connect our worlds." He looked with determination into Shadow's increasingly stormy visage. "Don't you see, Shadow, there must be a way to do it! These worlds were the same planet once! And there's been communication between them even after they split apart!"

Shadow watched him, unmoved. "It was a disaster that split them apart," he said. "Do you think you have the power to command nature to work in reverse? Your grandfather said he told you that if the worlds reunited, time would stop."

"I know that, but I still believe there's another way," Chris insisted. "One that won't stop time. And Shadow, I think you know what it could be. You can pass between the worlds without altering the space-time continuum or being altered by it!"

"I am the Ultimate Lifeform," Shadow replied. "I am ageless. Of course the space-time continuum wouldn't affect me."

Chris sighed. "I know, but . . ."

"I already told you that you should not be tampering with other dimensions," Shadow said, not even trying to keep the edge out of his voice. "I've told you it could trigger a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Even if not, it could permanently damage you. And yet it makes no difference; you persist in this foolish endeavor."

Chris's shoulders slumped. "I just want to be able to see Sonic again," he said, "and talk to him, like we used to do. Shadow, if there was a way to see Maria again, wouldn't you keep trying to find it no matter what it took?"

Shadow stiffened, his spines bristling on his back. He averted his gaze once more, the sparse but powerful memories washing over him. He and Maria looking out the window of the ARK . . . talking quietly in a room simulated to look like a grassy field. . . . G.U.N. soldiers breaking in and chasing them down the hall. . . . The escape pod . . . the bullets . . . Maria's last request as the escape hatch activated. . . .

"Shadow? Shadow, I'm sorry. . . . I didn't mean . . ."

He turned again, brought back to the present by Chris's regretful voice. "There's something I have to do," he said, not acknowledging the apology. "When I've completed the task, I will return."

"Will you?"

Chris's voice was so plaintive, so saddened, that Shadow hesitated. He had never heard anyone sound that despondent over news that he would be leaving.

"Shadow, I know what you think of yourself," Chris said. "You think you're only good for destruction and that everyone's better off without you. If you go away . . ." He looked down, his voice cracking as he spoke next. "I'm really afraid you won't come back. . . ."

Shadow frowned, looking up at him. Chris had finally managed to get Shadow to realize that they were friends, and even though it was strange, it also felt right. But at the same time, it made Shadow all the more intent on not letting anything happen to him. That included not lingering where this unknown phantom could find them.

"I've given my word," he finally said. "No matter what I think of myself, I'll come back."

Chris relaxed, but only slightly. "I believe you," he said. "You don't lie, Shadow." Yet he still had to worry about what Shadow was really going off to get into. He did not lie, but he was clearly holding something back.

Shadow did not respond. He sighed, glancing at the window as the sound of the lawn-mower ceased.

Not knowing what that mysterious being wanted, would it really help to leave now? Upon further reflection, it had almost sounded like he might know where to find Shadow. If he came and Shadow was not there, would he harm Chris? It was so difficult to know what was the best thing to do. Maybe it would actually be safer for Chris if Shadow remained and waited for the stranger to make his move.

"I'm going to be leaving," he said at last, "but I don't know when. It might not be for a while yet."

In the pale reflection of the pane, he could see Chris brighten. "I hope so," he said. "You should at least stay until you're all better."

Shadow grunted.

Was it his imagination, or was the air wafting through the window a bit colder again?

He reached up, grabbing hold of the pane and pulling it down with a bang. "Dinner should be ready now," he mused. "Let's go downstairs."

Chris jumped a mile at the sound of the crash. Now he winced, relieved that the window had not shattered.

"Yeah," he said in agreement. "Downstairs. . . ."

Shadow was already walking past him and heading into the hall. Chris followed with a frown, shooting a last glance at the room they were leaving.

What was it that had Shadow so upset? And what did the window have to do with it?

Nothing added up.

"Shadow, wait up!" he called as he hurried into the hall.

The hedgehog glanced over his shoulder, but kept going.

With a sigh, Chris followed. As they started down the stairs, the voice of Scarlet Garcia greeted them from the television on the main floor.

"And in weather-related news, a strange phenomenon---the mysterious Fifty-Year Comet, which passes Earth once every fifty years, has reappeared in the sky after a seven-year absence. It should be visible in the night skies for the next several weeks."

Chris blinked, mildly interested. "Huh," he said aloud.

But then, as he followed Shadow the rest of the way down, he thought nothing more of it.

****

Chris's and Shadow's world was relatively peaceful that day. Across the dimensional border, so was Sonic's. Eggman had not attacked for the last several days, though it was cause for a certain amount of tension since it meant he was scheming something new.

But Sonic's friends were determined to enjoy the quiet while it lasted. Amy Rose had been invited to dinner at Cream's house. The Chaotix were working on figuring out how to pay their bills. Knuckles was guarding the Master Emerald, while Rouge had set out on a new quest to find Chaos Emeralds. Big was fishing, accompanied by Froggy.

And Sonic knew exactly where to find Tails that evening. With lightning speed he zoomed to his buddy's laboratory and then to the roof. And sure enough, Tails was there, adjusting the telescope to peer into the night sky. He turned, smiling in greeting.

"Sonic!" he exclaimed. "Look---you can see the comet in the sky!" He pointed to a bright object in the distance among the stars, then glanced back to his telescope. "If you look through here, you can make out some of the craters on the surface."

Sonic only briefly gazed into the telescope and then into the sky. "Pretty cool," he mused.

Tails could tell that the hedgehog was preoccupied. He sighed, stepping away from the telescope. "You're worried about Chris, aren't you?" he said quietly.

Sonic gave a dismissive gesture. "Nah," he said. "I'm sure he got home fine. Why wouldn't he?"

Tails bit his lip. When Sonic had confronted Eggman, he had been told of the three-minute limit in the space-time continuum---and the possibility that Chris would not arrive home at the age he was supposed to be. Sonic had shrugged it off, and had continued to act nonchalant, but Tails could tell he was concerned.

"He'll be back here before we know it," Sonic went on. "I bet he's figuring it out right now."

Tails nodded. "Yeah, probably," he said.

"So!" Sonic said now, "I'll take another look at that comet." He grasped the telescope as he stared into the glass at the magnified sky. Seen up close, the comet was dark in color, the craters deeply pronounced. And for some reason, he did not like the feeling he got when he looked at it---as if thousands of unfriendly eyes were observing the planet, and him, from the depths of the craters. It was downright creepy. He frowned, stepping away again.

Tails blinked in confusion. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Sonic looked to him. "Oh, nothing," he said. "I was just thinking---if our planets occupy the same place in time and space, are we looking at the same sky?"

Tails frowned. "That's a good question," he said.

"Maybe Chris can even see the comet too," Sonic said. "Just something to think about." And with that he turned, prepared to run off the roof. "Later!"

"Wait, Sonic!" Tails called. "Where are you going?"

"Just for a run," Sonic grinned. In the next moment he was gone. Several autumn leaves blew across the roof's surface, their movement generated by the sudden breeze. Even the stationary telescope creaked a bit.

Tails barely noticed. "Sonic saw something he didn't like," he said to himself. "And now he's running off again. Well, I want to find out where he's going."

He took off flying, determined to catch up with his fast friend.

****

On the other side of town, all was not well at the Chaotix Detective Agency.

Vector growled, slamming his fists down on his desk. It had been a bad day. Not only had it been completely devoid of any casework, but the agency looked like a whirlwind had struck. Charmy had tried to retrieve something or another from one of the closets of no return, and the end result was junk all over the floor and furniture. Vector had told the kid to clean it up, but Charmy had only half-heartedly stuffed a few things back before going outside to play. Of course, they had fallen right out the moment he left.

Neither Vector or Espio wanted to pick it all up themselves. Espio felt that would only further encourage Charmy to not be responsible for his actions. Vector did not think it would make much difference, but he dreaded cleaning up in general. So did Charmy. That was why everything had been shoved in there to begin with. As far as Espio was concerned, both Vector and Charmy should pick it up, since they had both contributed to the mess.

As if all of that was not enough, Vanilla had not stopped by today. Not that Vector would have wanted her to see the place looking like a disaster zone, but they wouldn't have had to be inside. Seeing her would have given him more strength to deal with the calamity---and with his teammates, particularly Espio at the moment. The chameleon was not acting different; however, on some days his aloof nature and his pride drove Vector up the wall. Today was one of those days.

And the night was not shaping up to be any better. The normally easy-going crocodile was ready to snap.

"Bills, bills, and more bills!" he cried, sending the offending papers flying in all directions. "And no money to pay 'em! Why doesn't anyone ever need a detective around here?!"

Espio, meditating in the corner, opened an eye. "Maybe you'll have to go in for something else," he said flatly. "Like fulfilling your dream of being a recording artist."

Vector frowned. "You'd never join in with something like that."

Espio shrugged. "I wouldn't be interested in singing, no. But I'd figure something out. Maybe I'd play the shamisen."

Vector glared at him over the stack of envelopes. "Or maybe you're just looking for a way to ditch us," he said, ignoring the shamisen comment. "We both know you never wanted to be part of this team."

"Let's not start that again." Espio crossed his arms and closed his eyes as he leaned against the wall. Vector was stressed. It was impossible to trust what he said when he was stressed.

"Start it again?! It was never settled in the first place!" Vector grabbed up one last bill that was hanging onto the edge of the desk for dear life. Glancing over the total amount, he threw the paper down and snatched his checkbook and his most recent bank statement. If he wasn't careful, he would end up overdrawn. As if they did not have enough problems.

"I've always been loyal to the team," Espio said now. He stayed where he was, not intending to pick up the bills that had fallen to the floor. Vector had made the mess, so Vector could clean it up.

"Sure you have," Vector said as he scribbled his signature on the check. "But you've hated every minute of it. You just stick around because of this honor thing you've got going with your ninjitsu training. You feel like you're duty-bound to stay on. You would've been gone long ago if it wasn't for that!"

"If you think you have it all figured out already, then it wouldn't do me much good to even answer," Espio said. "I'm tired of arguing with you."

Vector just muttered in response.

Espio sighed to himself. Vector was right, he supposed. He had not wanted to be part of the Chaotix. He had been coerced into it by the others after their first adventure together. Or more precisely, he had been coerced into it by Charmy the Bee. The kid had a way of getting under one's skin, even if they tried to fight it tooth and nail. And now, even if it was not a question of honor, he was not sure that he would leave if given the chance. He had the strange feeling that he would only end up thinking about these misfits and wondering how they were doing. And then he would have to put aside his pride and return to them anyway---so it made more sense to just stay in the first place.

Not that there would even be any point in saying that to Vector. The official leader was in one of his "My mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts" moods. If Espio tried to explain, he would not be believed.

"Hey, are you guys fighting again?"

Both of them looked up at the sound of Charmy's disappointed voice. He was flying into the room, a small package clutched in his hands. His discouragement was understandable; he had been deeply affected by their problems getting along due to their grief over their fourth member's death some time back. And now, after he had thought they were starting to heal---during the fight with the Metarex, of all things---tensions were rising once more. Vector was not about to pretend that there was not a problem, as he had done when Mighty had been killed. This time Vector wanted answers and he wanted them now. But Espio was not content to give him any, at least the way Charmy saw it. And this had been going on for several weeks, starting after they had gotten home from space. It only grew worse with the passage of time. His two friends' polar opposite personalities could no longer seem to co-exist under the same roof.

Vector let out his breath, cursing the bad luck of poor Charmy hearing him lose his patience with the bills and taking it out on Espio. "Nah, we were just having a heated discussion," he said. "Whatcha got there, Charmy?"

The bee shrugged. "I dunno. I was waiting to come here to open it." With a half-hearted gesture he pulled off the sticky flap of the padded envelope, sending a disc tumbling out of the new opening.

Espio reached and caught it without batting an eye. "There's a note attached to this," he said.

Charmy promptly flew to him, trying to look over his shoulder. "What's it say?!" he demanded.

"I'll read it," Espio grunted in annoyance. "Just a minute." Knowing it would be pointless to try to shoo Charmy off, he read the note while the bee still hovered with insistence by his left shoulder.

"'This is the first of five discs. All are needed to unlock the pieces of a puzzle, but the other four are nowhere to be found. I'm hiring the three of you to track the rest down for me. You will be generously rewarded.'"

Vector frowned. "Sounds a lot like when Eggman hired us and then wouldn't pay up," he said. "I'm not takin' on any more jobs for him."

"This person really is going to pay us!" Charmy announced, digging deeper into the envelope. He produced a rectangular object, which he set on Vector's desk while flashing a triumphant smile. "Money money money!"

Vector grabbed it up. "A check!" he exclaimed in disbelieving awe, gazing at the written numbers with an almost worshipful expression. "This is a real check! Charmy, Espio, we're in business!" He looked to the chameleon. "Does the note say anything else, like where we're supposed to start looking for these things?"

Espio shook his head. "The person claims he'll contact us again shortly." He frowned. "But we shouldn't rush into this. The check might even bounce."

"We'll be fine!" Vector retorted. "This is our lucky break! Are you in or out?"

A frown crossed the smaller reptile's features. Once again, Vector was only seeing what he wanted to see. It was times like this when Espio did not know why he even bothered; his opinion clearly was not welcome. He was convinced that the other two would be bumbling everything if he was not around, but he should not even care what they did. If they were determined to be foolish, that was not Espio's problem.

"I'm still part of this team," he said at last.

"Then you're in," Vector replied. He looked to Charmy. "Put that disc somewhere safe until he contacts us again."

"Right!" Charmy chirped, taking the disc from Espio before flying off.

Espio sighed, watching Charmy leave before turning back to Vector. "I hope you know what you're doing," he said.

"Of course I know what I'm doing!" Vector snapped. "Look, you don't have to stay here if you really don't want to. I wouldn't consider it a violation of your honor code and neither would Charmy."

The chameleon half-turned, not wanting the hurt in his eyes to be visible. "I'm staying," he said.

Vector leaned back. "Okay then," he said. "Just remember who's the leader here."

"Oh, I remember," Espio responded. Slightly lower he added, "You never let us forget it."

If Vector heard, he ignored it.

****

Shadow pushed open the doors leading to the back patio and stepped outside. By now the sun had set, leaving a distinct autumn chill in the air. He ignored it, crossing to the nearest deck chair and giving it a cursory examination before climbing onto it. From here, if he leaned back and stared into the sky, the returning comet was visible. But he did not particularly want to lay on his back. He rolled onto his side, studying the celestial object as best as he could from that position. It was not long, however, before he grew bored. He looked away, gazing at a point on the concrete without really seeing it.

"Are you going to stare out that window all day?" the ghost of Maria's voice asked him in his past.

"I can't help wondering what it would be like . . . to live there," he heard his own voice answer back. ". . . Professor Gerald said that I was created for an important purpose. And somehow I feel that it is connected with that planet."

Now he had been living on the planet, just as Maria had longed so badly to do. He experienced the sky overhead, grass underfoot, and trees and plants and sentient inhabitants every day. It was different from what living on the ARK must have been like.

Yet he barely remembered those times. The few memories he had he kept in the forefront of his mind for easy access, but there were so many holes in the story that it made little sense to him. He remembered many of the most important things, he supposed---how much Maria meant to him, what had happened to her. . . . Bits and pieces of his reawakening fifty years later and what he had tried to do. . . . He remembered Chris pleading with him, and him attacking the boy, but beyond that all was a blank. He had to rely on Chris to recall the rest, which was not the same thing at all.

Somewhere behind him, the patio doors opened again. He did not bother to turn around; he could tell from the footsteps that it sounded like Chris.

"Danny called," the boy announced.

Shadow grunted, his typical response to such news.

Chris sat down in a nearby chair. "He and Frances asked how you're doing," he said. "I told them you're getting better."

Shadow finally looked to him. "Did they want to come by?" he asked.

Chris nodded. "I've talked about you so much through the years. . . . They've been wanting to meet you."

"My answer is still the same," Shadow responded. "I don't care if they come over to see you. It's your house; do what you want. But I don't want to see anyone."

"I told them I didn't think you were up to it," Chris said.

"I would have rather no one learned of my presence at all," Shadow said.

"I'm sorry," Chris apologized. "But they're trustworthy. I told them to keep it quiet, and they haven't told anyone. Helen hasn't, either."

"Helen . . ." Shadow repeated. He had heard Chris speak of her more than the others. Though Chris was still good friends with Danny and Frances, he seemed to have developed a special rapport with Helen. Maybe that was because, from what Chris had said in the past, he and Helen had both been very lonely as children, and they had closely bonded during the many adventures with Sonic and his friends.

"I think you'd like her," Chris said, a quiet smile on his features.

Shadow offered no reply. Instead he gazed at the quiet water in the pool, lost in thought.

Chris gave a sad sigh. ". . . Shadow . . ." He shifted, uncomfortable with the silence. Part of him wanted to ask what Shadow was thinking. The other part was sure he knew. Most likely, Shadow was mulling over what he remembered of his past and trying desperately to bring the rest to mind. It made Chris feel so helpless, to only be able to stand by and watch and not do anything to assist.

He reached into his pocket, pulling out the crumpled pieces of paper he had copied from Gerald Robotnik's diary. What Shadow had said was true, there was not much. Most of it was not even the exact wording---just paraphrasing, as he had made the notes after their return from Space Colony ARK.

He was not even sure why he had decided to make the copies. It had been on an evening not long after Shadow's apparent death, as Chris had lain staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. At last he had reached for his school notebook, copying down what he had been able to recall of Professor Gerald's diary's contents before falling into a troubled sleep. Most of it had consisted of various diagrams, though he had also written down a couple of text entries---mainly about Maria Robotnik's illness and her grandfather's desperate search for a cure.

He had thought so much about Shadow all through the years. Though they had barely known each other, Chris had come to recognize Shadow as a tragic and lonely figure and had been heart-broken at Sonic's news that Shadow had not survived the rescue of both the Earth and the ARK. And Sonic had been more deeply affected than he had wanted to admit. He had finally told Chris the details upon Chris's request to know---that Shadow's strength had been spent after removing the inhibitor rings and he had fallen towards Earth's atmosphere, unable to be saved. Sonic had tried.

Chris had never thought he would be grateful to Eggman for anything. But the doctor had managed to rescue Shadow from certain death, albeit of course he had only had his own interests at heart. Still, Shadow was alive thanks to him.

Eggman had never told anyone that Shadow was alive, but in a deep coma. Chris had been bewildered by the prophetic dream he had experienced near the beginning of their war against the Metarex, when he had seen the Red Chaos Emerald glistening with Shadow's reflection in all facets. And then, in their most dire moment of need, Shadow had suddenly, unexplainably revived and come to their aid.

Chris could scarcely remember a time when he had been more shocked. Shadow had stood on that pinnacle, the Red and Purple Chaos Emeralds reacting to him and orbiting around his body. He had looked at Chris, whom he had just saved, his eyes devoid of emotion. Then he had gone as mysteriously as he had come, as if he was nothing more than a spectre. But they had all known then that he was very real.

He looked to Shadow, who was still gazing at the pool without actually seeing it. At last Chris got up, crossing to the other deck chair and bending down in front of it. He reached out, drawing his arms around Shadow in a brief but firm hug. The hedgehog went stiff in his grasp.

"What was that about?" Shadow asked as Chris pulled back.

Chris managed a smile. "I'm just really glad you're here," he said.

Shadow leaned back, choosing not to reply. Instead he looked at Chris, his red eyes bespeaking some of his concern but nothing of the reason.

Somewhere out there, they were both being observed right now.

How long would it be until the peace was shattered?