Title: Twenty Minute Birthday
Rated: T (Swearing will ensue, Bitches)
Honestly, that was the first thing Shadow could think of when he saw it. He immediately berated himself for having such a poor initial reaction, but given the circumstances, he knew it was simply logical to react that way in this situation. Not to mention that it was him in this kind of situation. Shadow had dealt with several internal struggles with himself since the day Dr. Eggman had released him from his sleep, but he didn't have to search his soul too hard to know where he stood on his current issue.
Shadow was not good with children.
And yet, the Chao continued to stare up with him, it's newborn eyes wide in curiosity. Shadow was unable to do anything but stare back, slightly unnerved by the depth of emotion they already possessed despite it being so young. Seriously, it had just hatched a few seconds ago. How was it already able to have such a complex interaction of emotions with him? Was this some kind of imprinting? Sure Shadow had been the first thing it'd seen when the top of its egg flew off, but had that split second really created such a strong attachment between the two?
The Chao seemed to think so. The floating orb above its head bobbed as it tilted its head, looking at Shadow from different angles. Shadow felt like he was in some kind of scanner. He wanted to look away, but he had the distinct feeling that breaking eye contact with the Chao at that moment would be a very bad move. So he stood there, matching the Chao's stare. He searched it's eyes for traces of fear, expecting to see at least some hesitation. To his surprise, there was nothing.
Shadow was thrown through a bit of a loop- he couldn't remember the last time someone had looked at him without any traces fear or suspicion. Sonic's friends were hesitant to approach him directly. Sonic had never once seemed frightened of Shadow, but always regarded him with slight suspicion out of the corner of his eye. Even Rouge, who was the most relaxed around him, regarded him warily sometimes. Yet this small Chao simply looked at him with pure, childish curiosity. It didn't make much sense though.
If the Chao was really developing at such a fast rate, then it should have developed enough logic to sense that Shadow was not someone it wanted to be around. Weren't Chaos supposed to be able to sense chaos energy? Shadow was certainly sensing a faint trace of it from the Chao- was it not old enough to sense it from him? Shadow knew that a great deal of it was constantly surging through him- why didn't the Chao sense it? Or was it aware of the chaos energy but not afraid of it? Was it...drawn to it?
That would explain why the Chao was suddenly nuzzling him.
When it broke eye contact with Shadow, he briefly entertained fantasies of it loosing interest in him and wandering off. These hopes were dashed when it simply came closer to him. Shadow was unable to do anything but watch helplessly as it reached out and hugged his leg, nuzzling his face against it. It took every ounce of Shadow's willpower not to yank his leg away. This was not good. Whether or not the Chao seemed to sense the possible impending danger it was in, it had clearly taken a liking to Shadow.
Shadow forced his stunned mind to start forming logical thoughts again. Okay, so he was in a bad situation. It wasn't like he'd been in worse though. Surely battling deadly robots was child's play compared to this...child. Okay so maybe he'd rather be facing a deadly robot at the moment, but that didn't mean he was completely- He was helpless.
Shadow groaned, earning him another piercing stare from the Chao. Well, at least it had stopped nuzzling him. The brief freedom of his leg seemed to help Shadow think for a moment. Sure he'd never actually been near a Chao before, but that didn't mean he didn't know anything about them. Shadow was intelligent. Since he'd woken up, he'd taken it upon himself to learn several subjects about the world. Sure he'd never sought out the study of Chao specifically, but he'd read information about them in relationship to studies about the Chaos Emeralds. He also had...acquaintances who had mentioned the subject in passing. Shadow tried to remember some of the things he knew...
"Yeah, they're cute little guys," Rouge's voice slipped in casually. Shadow's memory conjured up the voice of Rouge surprisingly well. He could practically see her fanged smile. "A lot to handle though- they're basically babies." Huh. Maybe that would explain why the Chao was crawling away in a way so similar to a baby. Well, Shadow knew a few things about babies, most of it strengthening the argument that he was not suitable to be near them. Still... there were some things he could do. What was it that babies needed?
"Oh man, you should've seen it Shadow!" Shadow frowned- why did Sonic seem so energetic in all of his memories? "I'm not kidding- I once saw a Chao eat an entire tree full of fruit! And the fruit had to have been the same size as it! Man, I could never eat that much all at once..." Come to think of it though, most of Shadow's memories of Sonic also entailed the blue hedgehog talking about food or eating it. How did he manage to run so fast if he kept putting on all that weight? Or did he have to eat so much to compensate for so much physical activity? Shadow rolled his eyes to discontinue the line of thought. He had other things to worry about at that moment other than Sonic's diet. The Chao had crawled a short distance from him, sitting up and leaning back on its hands, turning its face upwards. It seemed curious about the hole in the ceiling.
Okay, so the Chao probably need to eat something. Assuming Sonic's memory was correct (which was a bigger gamble than Shadow was comfortable with) the newborn Chao in front of him should be able to consume fruit. What kind of fruit though? Shadow recalled from his studies that Chao Gardens usually contained trees for the Chao's natural diet. He couldn't recall what kind of trees it had listed though, and he didn't think he was in a Chao Garden. Well, at least not any more.
Glancing around, Shadow saw that most of whatever had been in the room had been crushed under the rubble of the same cave-in that had brought him down here. What was left didn't look like a Chao Garden, but Shadow wasn't really an expert on such things. He certainly didn't see any trees, although he supposed they could have been crushed by cave-in. It was a miracle that the Chao's egg had been out of harm's way from the cascading rocks. Although such a miracle must have used up the last of the Chao's luck if it was now paired with Shadow. Whether or not the room had been a Chao Garden, it certainly wasn't going to function as one now. Looking up at the bit of light shining through the hole, Shadow tried to decide what to do next.
He was still on a mission, and although delayed, he could still manage to carry it out. That probably wasn't going to happen though if he had to bring a Chao along. Actually, that was a definite no way in hell. If Shadow was to complete his mission, the child-like creature would have to stay behind.
He could just leave it behind though- especially not alone in a room that had already suffered a cave-in. Shadow had to get it out of here at least. Where would he take it from there though? The best case scenario would be to find a Chao Garden, but Shadow had no idea where one was. He was on the outskirts of a small town in an area he wasn't familiar with. As far as he knew, Chao gardens weren't built in close proximities to each other. If this room had once been a Chao Garden, the next was likely miles away. He had no way of knowing where the next closest Chao Garden was. Unless...
Pulling out his communicator, Shadow debated with himself for a moment. Yes, he was desperate to get rid of the Chao, but putting a call into base would cause other problems as well. He was on a solo mission, one he'd insisted on taking with the assurance that he could pull it off without a hitch. Calling into base now an admitting that there was a hitch would be a blow to his pride. He still had to prove himself to the Commander as well, and admitting that he couldn't deal with a creature as harmless as a Chao wouldn't earn him any points. Shadow stared at his communicator for a bit longer before an idea hit him.
Of course! He didn't need to notify HQ, just someone who would tell him where the nearest Chao Garden was! Someone like...
Shadow quickly ran through his options. Rouge was the most obvious choice- he had a direct line to her communicator, and he could trust her to give him his desired data without notifying HQ that he was seeking it. Still... Rouge wasn't big on favors, even for friends. She'd insist on something in return, and Shadow wasn't sure he could meet her price. Even if she did keep this incident a secret, Rouge would certainly tease him about it for years to come, flashing that fangy smile as she made small jibes at him. It wasn't something he was looking forward too.
Other than Rouge though, he didn't have many alternatives. Despite the fact that he was on good terms with Sonic and his friends didn't mean he could just call them up for a chat. He had no way to communicate with Sonic- the two of them met more often than he would like, and Shadow wasn't looking to find a way to increase that. He could probably find him through Tails, although Tails didn't have a very secure line. Despite the fox's impressive ability to handle machinery, he had yet to notice that the G.U.N. had tapped his phone. Shadow couldn't risk it, and Sonic probably wasn't the best person to call in this situation anyway.
The best person to call in this situation was probably... well, Cream. Shadow surprised himself with the conclusion, but it was the truth. The small bunny-girl's relationship with her Chao, Cheese, probably made her the expert on Chao out of Sonic's group of friends. If anyone would know what to do, she could certainly give him tips. Shadow wasn't particularly close to her, but he'd done small favors for her in the past, and Cream seemed to like him for it. Calling her would be safe- G.U.N. had no reason to keep tabs on child living with her single mother.
Shadow did a quick search on Cream using the communicator's internet feed, thankful that he knew how to delete the search data later. It didn't take long for him to find her contact information, but Shadow spent a few more seconds debating with himself if this was really what he needed to do. He certainly didn't want to- he felt more comfortable facing certain doom than calling up a kid and asking her for advice. Rouge was constantly telling him that he needed to improve his social skills, but this wasn't exactly the practice he had hoped for. A sudden physical contact on Shadow's leg pulled him from his thoughts.
Glancing down, he saw that the Chao was looking up at him, wide-eyed and curious. Shadow was suddenly seized by a strange urge to...pet it. He frowned, wondering where such an idea even came from. Chaos were infants, not pets. Yes, infants needed a certain amount of affection, but petting? That was just...
As the Chao's eyes gazed up with him the notion seemed less and less ridiculous to Shadow. It suddenly seemed perfectly natural. Shadow knew he lacked certain social skills, but this was natural instinct, and Shadow happened to pride himself on his instincts. Slowly, he lifted his free hand, placing it on the Chao's head. The Chao gave him a small smile in return. Trying to be as gentle as possible, Shadow slowly moved his hand in a petting motion, watching the Chao carefully for any signs of discomfort. The Chao sighed, lifting its small...hand(?) to its mouth in a thoughtful pose. Shadow watched for a moment, searching for any signs that he was causing the Chao pain. All he found was it's peaceful smile.
"...Hmph," He muttered under his breath. He chest felt light for some reason. Was the Chao having this affect on him? It felt... His thoughts were thankfully distracted by the blinking light of his communicator before they went any further. Flipping it open, Shadow entered in Cream's contact information. The screen flickered for a few moments, registering that the signal had made a connection. A repetitive ringing noise sounded from the communicator's speaker, until-
"Hello?" The speaker portrayed the phrase with a feminine voice- a mature feminine voice. Shadow unconsciously stopped petting the Chao in surprise, staring in horror at the communicator.
The voice was too mature to be Cream- her mother must have answered the phone. That made perfect sense- why wouldn't the adult answer the phone instead of leaving it for her young daughter to answer? And yet, Shadow had been fully expecting Cream to answer, he hadn't considered that her mother would-
"Hello?" The speaker echoed the same voice again, this time though with a hint of confusion in its tone. Shadow mentally cursed his breif pause and quickly tried to reclaim the situation.
"Yes, my apologies," He said hastily, hoping he was sounding polite, "I'm- " Shadow's brain was scrambling. Cream's mother's name was- he couldn't remember. He only knew Cream's Chao, Cheese. Right- Cream, he needed to talk to Cream. "-hoping to speak to Cream. Is she available?" There was a brief pause of silence, which seemed more crushing in the stillness of the room.
"...May I ask who is speaking?" The voice then asked. The wording was polite, and the tone was pleasant, but Shadow quickly picked up on the undertone of suspicion underneath. He wasn't offended, but it did present a problem. One of the reasons he suspected Cream was friendly to him was that she seemed strangely oblivious about his actions in the past. He couldn't say the same for her mother though. Actually, she was probably well informed by the news on exactly what he'd done in the last several months- or worse, the butchered version G.U.N. had fed the paparazzi to convince them to back off. Neither painted him in a very positive light. If she hadn't already recognized his voice, telling her who he was might risk his chances of speaking to Cream. Shadow felt a sudden pressure under his other hand. He glanced down to see that the Chao was moving it's own head in a back and forth motion, trying to replicate the motion now that his hand had stopped. He quickly resumed the petting motion, watching as it sighed again contently, closing it's eyes peacefully.
Shadow nearly stepped back in alarm as the orb above it's head suddenly swelled, making a popping noise as it formed the shape of a large, round heart. His mouth gaped as he stared at it, then at the Chao. It seemed completely unfazed by the sudden change in it's external anatomy. Looking back at the heart, Shadow's chest started to feel light again. Slowly, his lifted his communicator to speak.
"...My name is Shadow," He admitted. He continued quickly, hoping he could convince Cream's mother not to hang up the phone with his next statement, "There's been an incident involving a Chao. I could use Cream's advice on the matter." There was another silence. This one seemed longer and more crushing than the first. Shadow was about to check to see if she had hung up when the speaker suddenly broadcasted her voice again.
"Cream's talked about you a lot. She says that you are always very nice to her." She informed him. Shadow was a bit surprised- he hadn't thought that his breif encounters with Cream had been memorable enough to mention to her mother. He was even more surprised when Cream's mother told him, "Thank you for helping my little girl." At that statement, Shadow's mind went blank. His mind was still trying to reboot itself when he faintly registered that the voice on the phone was speaking again, though in a fainter tone, as if she had turned her head away from the speaker. Shadow had just gotten his wits about him when another voice penetrated the silence.
"Hi, Mr. Shadow!" A bubbly voice greeted him. Shadow recognized Cream more from the enthusiasm than her specific voice pattern. What was it about Sonic and his friends that made them all so energetic?
"Hello, Cream," He greeted the rabbit in return, "I...have a few questions about Chao." The speaker went silent for a moment, then suddenly transmitted a strange, squeaky noise.
"Oooooh, have you started raising Chao, Mr. Shadow?" Cream asked. Shadow opened his mouth to answer, but found himself bombarded with more questions instead. "Do you have an egg yet? Have you looked for pretty-colored eggs? Are you gonna raise it in a Garden? Have you thought of a name for it already?"
"I-" Shadow quickly interjected as the girl stopped to take a breath, "-already hatched one."
"Oh, that's great!" Cream cheered over the speaker, "When did you hatch it?"
"Just a moment ago," He explained, glancing down at the Chao under his hand. He was still petting it.
"Awww, so it's a newborn? Oooooh, I bet its adorable!" Cream giggled. Shadow was surprised he could understand the girl's words through her squeel. "Oh, so you haven't named it yet?"
"...No," Shadow answered, frowning slightly. He hadn't even considered naming..."It." He had referred to "It" as such so far, he wasn't sure where to even start with a name. He was trying to think if he'd ever named anything before.
"You can name it at the Chao Preschool then!" Cream explained, "Oh, is that what you wanted to ask about?"
"I'm looking for a Chao Garden- are they near Chao Preschools?" Shadow asked quickly. The conversation was starting to make him feel anxious.
"Yep, they're always right next door! Do you need help finding one?" Cream offered, "I have a pretty map that shows where they all are!" Shadow debated with himself on whether or not to trust the girl's geographical sense, but realized he didn't have much of a choice.
"Okay! I'll be right back!" Cream assured him. He heard the slight pitter-patter of her feet as she scurried away from the phone. Waiting for her to return, Shadow shifted his weight from one leg to the other. The motion made him realize that some time had passed since he'd been standing here. He quickly checked the digital clock on the communicator. It had been an hour since he was dropped off in this city to search for the target. It had been about half an hour since the accident above that had caused the cave in. It had been twenty minutes since Shadow woke up in alarm to find himself in a hole surrounded by rocks that had previously made up the ceiling. It had been seventeen minutes since he had a followed the strange sound he'd heard to come upon a shaking egg. It had been sixteen minutes since the top of the speckled egg cracked and the Chao's head had emerged.
"It" was sixteen minutes old.
Shadow heard a rustling noise over the speaker just before Cream announced, "I'm back, Mr. Shadow! Are you still there?"
"Yes," He quickly confirmed.
"Okay! Um..." Cream trailed off thoughtfully, "Do you know where you are?" Shadow frowned, wondering how detailed the girl's "map" was.
"I'm in a city called Grand Metropolis," He stated carefully, hoping that would at least help her begin to pinpoint his location.
"Graaaand Me-tro-po-lis," Cream repeated the name to herself. The way she accented it made Shadow feel a little uneasy. How young was she again? She quickly reassured him again. "Oh! Okay, you're near Casino Park! That place is so pretty!"
"Yes," Shadow quickly agreed, relieved that she did seem to know where he was. "Is there a Chao Garden nearby?"
"Umm...." Cream sounded thoughtful again as she trailed off. Shadow tried to wait patiently, but now that they were finally getting somewhere he was feeling even more anxious. Finally, it paid off.
"Yeah! Okay, I think the closest one is in Station Square! It's just to the right of Grand Me-tro-po-lis."
"..." Shadow mentally cursed his lack of knowlege about the surrounding geography. Right? If he assumed Cream was reading the map right-side up, he could assume that it was east, but for all he knew, she was reading the map upside-down. How was he-
"That's about twenty miles east from Grand Metropolis, Shadow." A voice explained, interrupting Shadow's thoughts. He was surprised to her Cream's mother again, but then realized that she was probably helping Cream read the map. "You'll find the Chao Garden in a hotel on the ocean front."
"I see," He affirmed that he'd heard her. Twenty miles east. He could run that distance in less than ten minutes, though with the Chao... Even so, now he finally knew where he was going. Shadow allowed himself a small sigh of relief. "...Thank you."
"You're welcome, Mr. Shadow!" Cream chirped, "You gonna go there now?"
"Yes," He nodded, looking down at the Chao as he spoke. It was still in it's peaceful trance from the petting.
"Okay, you can call again if you get lost," Cream assured him, "Buh-bye, Mr. Shadow!"
"Goodbye, Cream," Shadow answered politely. The communicator clicked as the connection was lost. Shadow stared at it for a moment before turning his attention to the Chao. It still had a peaceful look on its face despite the fact that Shadow had stopped petting it. Shadow tried to think of what to do next. He knew where to go now, but wasn't sure how to safely transport the Chao there.
He couldn't carry the Chao there. Even if it could handle the breakneck speeds, it would probably be uncomfortable. Shadow tried to think of other options. His motorbike came to mind but that was back at HQ. He could call the base and ask them to bring it out, but he'd loose time waiting for it, an it would make HQ suspicious. Rouge had a car, but he had no idea where she or the car was, and the whole point of calling Cream was to avoid letting Rouge know what was going on.
Shadow jerked in surprise at the sudden noise that came from his feet. He looked at the Chao in alarm as it made the noise again. It was a high-pitched...giggle? The Chao giggled again, hopping from one foot to the next. When the Chao saw that it had Shadow's attention, it smiled widely up at him, lifting its arms up towards him. Shadow stared at a moment as it hopped at his feet, reaching for him.
"...You want to be picked up?" Shadow asked inexplicably. Whether the Chao understood him or not, it balanced itself on it's toes in an attempt to reach even higher, still giggling all the while. Entranced, Shadow slowly knelt down in front of the Chao, sliding his hands under its arms. He gripped its torso firmly enough to hold it securely, but tried to be gentle enough not to hurt it. Leaning back, he cautiously lifted the Chao off the ground.
As soon as the Chao's feet left the floor, it let out an excited giggle, clapping its hands. Shadow stood up fully, holding the Chao so that they were face to face. The Chao smiled up at him, regarding him with those eyes for the hundredth time since it had hatched. Shadow looked down at it, amazed at how quickly it had developed in such a short amount of time. Shifting his hold on the Chao so he could hold it in one arm, Shadow fished out his communicator with the other and checked the time before looking at the Chao again. It smiled at him again, and Shadow smiled faintly back at it.
"Happy twenty-minute birthday," He wished the Chao in his arms. It giggled and clapped again in response. Looking up, Shadow studied the hole in the ceiling. Looking back down to the Chao, he held it closer, muttering, "Hold on tight," under his breath. Shadow launched himself into the air, landing on a rock before launching himself to an even higher point. The Chao in his arms didn't seem to mind a bit. It wasn't long before Shadow vaulted himself through the hole in the ceiling, leaving the darkness and a broken eggshell behind him.
Son of a bitch, I lost half of this due to a save malfunction. I'm practically asking for it though, making this one so long. Still- FanFiction, I love you to death, but you make this really tedious for me sometimes.
Uh, angry rants aside, review?