Warnings: Uh, melodrama, I guess?^^°
Sometimes, Shadow wonders.
It is another breezy spring day, cold, but with brilliant sunshine. White clouds overhead, coulourful flicky birds riding the wind, calling to him with cheerful chirps.
Not at all consistent with his mood.
The black hedgehog is trudging up the hill he has already climbed countless times before, rectangle black stones all that will await him at the top. He can't even muster up the will to skate, his steps dragging and awkward.
If someone looked at him now, they could see that his usual fierce scowl is gone, replaced with an empty stare. Shadow doesn't even see the grass weaving in the wind.
He has almost reached his destination, pausing before he will pass through the gate in the low wooden fence. The hill is not a mountain, but because the area around Station Square and the Mystic Ruins is basically flat, it still overlooks the plains all the way to the sea and the Red Mountains. The shadow of Angel Island passes overhead and the view is gorgeous and perfect.
At this point he always thinks that he has chosen this place for her because she loved nothing more than gazing at Earth from a window and wished for nothing else but to see it again.
Of course, you don't see much from six feet underground.
He can never say much at this point, but her gravestone hardly ever talks a lot, either.
Maria. A name, a friend, his sister by choice if not by blood. Her body and records long gone, but an empty grave was the least he could do for her. Sometimes, standing here, he feels a little less lonely.
Another breeze rufflying his fur, his gaze sweeps over the area he has spent the last two years of his life in…
Somewhere on the distant mountains, a flash of blue. Sonic. His blue-furred double lives for adventure, for the thrill of adrenaline and the feeling he is needed and loved by his friends and the world. Shadow cannot see the sense in this.
On the cliffs above the sea sits Tails' little house. The fox is simply happy because he can follow his passion of building machines and help people. The black hedgehog can't remember a time when he had felt a passion for anything else but revenge, and he also remembers that it never, ever made him happy.
A flash of pink follows the blue one and the Ultimate Lifeform gives a humourless snort. Amy Rose, of course, needs no reason for living other than mercilessly hunting down the hedgehog she loves. Shadow long ago accepted that he probably will not love again.
The shadow of Angel Island falls on him and the black hedgehog closes his eyes for a second, feeling the massive power of the Master Emerald, even at this distance enough to make him dizzy. The sole inhabitant of the floating isle in the sky is Knuckles, whose duty and purpose in life is to protect the gem stone and his home. The echidna is a hermit who can find fulfillment in solitude, exercise, devotion and discipline. The fact that Sonic drags him off adventuring three times a week does not change the basic truth that even someone as limited in his options as Knuckles can achieve something Shadow cannot.
His opportunist friend, Rouge, of course also has a goal in life - which involves amassing the greatest collection of stolen jewels and snaring in the process either the Master Emerald or his Guardian. But the Ultimate Lifeform is ageless and for him, even gems are merely dust that will wear away over time.
At last, Shadow's blood-red eyes travel over the green mass that is the rain forest hiding the ruins of echidna civilization. Big the Cat lives there, his only food what's provided by nature, his only friend a feral frog of scarce vocabulary. But even this Mobian, whose intelligence is somewhere on the average of a cucumber patch and who is nowhere near as powerful or well-travelled as the blue hedgehog and his friends, is enjoying his life and bursting with contentment.
"Maria…have I done anything wrong?" Shadow sometimes wonders half-heartedly, knowing that no answer will be forthcoming. In fact, not even if she were still alive. Shadow closes his eyes, remembering how his first friend had always thought him perfect, and if he had been able to ask her that question now, she'd only smile in confusion, not able to understand what troubled him so.
As if Shadow didn't know the answer himself.
"My purpose…" he breathes quietly, the words seeming to fly away on the untroubled breeze. "There's none."
He slowly sinks down on one knee at the grave; one palm flat on the ground as the black hedgehog once again feels the defeat threatening to overcome him, even if there was no visible enemy in sight that he could fight against. "Damn…"
He had been created to find the cure for Maria's sickness, NIDS. But then she had died trying to save him and now it made his existence nothing more than a sick joke. In fact, if Shadow had never been created, Maria might have lived longer…
"This isn't fair," he presses through gnashed teeth while staring at the ground, knowing that this sentence is as ridiculous as it is futile.
The world doesn't know fairness, and nowhere does that statement sound more final than on a graveyard. A damp spot suddenly appears on the ground beneath Shadow and the black hedgehog can almost convince himself that it must be rain.
"Why…?" he wonders again, but of course he knows that hardly anyone of the countless people who have ever asked that question while staring at a headstone ever got an explanation. Shadow doesn't believe in any religious concepts, but sometimes envies those who do; maybe if he could bring himself to think there was a sort of meaning to all this, it would make life easier. Maybe he would know what to do…like Sonic, who lived for others, like Amy, who lived for him, like Knuckles, Tails, or even that lunatic of a Doctor, who all seemed to know the purpose of their existence and looked forward to waking up each morning.
"Futile," Shadow mutters, repeating himself, talking aloud because he's used to being alone. "There is no reason for me to be here."
He wonders whether he should stop here, skate away to escape his thoughts, but then briefly freezes in his spot as he hears a soft sound. Black ears swivel around as the Ultimate Lifeform rises again, turning his face into the wind that had carried the noise toward him. It sounded like a whimper…and somehow familiar?
Frowning, not sure why apart from the innate curiosity that comes from being raised by a bunch of scientists, Shadow takes a step forward, walking around one of the larger gravestones. He has never met anyone else up here and mostly chose this resting place for Maria for that exact reason. It was a cheap place too, because it lay so far out of the way, but to Shadow, that had made it perfect. Now he wasn't so sure anymore…
Parting the bushes that have overgrown the area in one place, he finally beholds the other visitor and freezes. It is that little bunny, Cream or Yoghurt or something like that, who sits in front of another grave, knees tugged in to hide her face while crying her eyes out.
"…Cream?" Shadow asks a little bit taken aback, hoping at the same time he chose the right dairy food denomination. He glances around briefly to look around for her mother, sure that a seven-year-old like her shouldn't be this far from her home alone, (ignoring the fact that he himself is actually not older…) but can't seem to hear or see the maternal rabbit.
"…hu-huh?" the little bunny looks up at his words, her usually cheerful chocolate brown eyes red-rimmed and swollen today. "Mr. Shadow?" she asks, a little bit confused and surprised at being interrupted like this.
Shadow frowns. "Yes. What are you doing here?"
Cream sits her head on her knees again, looking at the ground. "Visiting someone," she mumbles more than says and Shadow is a bit surprised. The little girl who is usually always the most cheerful of them all seems a far cry from herself today. Suddenly, Shadow feels a small surge of alarm. Cream is all alone, perhaps her mother…?
A quick glance at the name on the gravestone calms him; whoever lies there was a male and has been dead for more than two years.
"Are you visiting someone, too?" Cream asks as she looks at him once more with her puffy eyes, wiping at the tear trails of her face. Shadow briefly hopes she won't see that he, too, has been crying. Unable to say anything for a second, he nods before opening his mouth.
"…yes. My sister, Maria," he says before he can stop himself, the additional information springing from him automatically. The little rabbit nods.
"Are you bringing her flowers?" she asks and Shadow notices the characteristic white floral vegetation Cream always likes to pick lying on the grave she's been sitting in front of.
"No," Shadow shakes his head. "I never thought of it."
"Here, take these," Cream says, holding out a little bouquet she's still kept so far. "Every girl likes to get flowers from a boy," she says and the smile she tries to give him for some reason almost tears Shadow's heart in two. He didn't know anyone could still do that.
Wordlessly, he takes the flowers before his tongue finally obeys him again.
"Thank you," he replies, the words sounding rusty and rarely used, pausing for a moment before at last bringing himself to ask the obvious question.
"Who did you give flowers to…?"
The little bunny bites her lip, her slightly larger rabbit front teeth making her look unconsciously cute. She doesn't look at Shadow and when she finally replies 'my dad', it is only a whisper.
"Your father…" Shadow echoes, but then again, it should have been obvious. They have met her mother, but never Vanilla's husband, and none of the two have ever mentioned him.
"How did…?" Shadows asks, not sure whether he should really ask the little girl the question. Tears are rolling down her cheeks again, but she still tries to reply.
"It was…two years ago. There…something had gone wrong, and there came a monster."
"A monster?" Shadow repeats, not sure whether the rabbit might not have been still too young to understand what her father had died from. But now the little girl only nods fiercely.
"Yes, a monster. It was called Chaos and it flooded the city and it was the God of Destruction…mommy says a lot of people died that day. Daddy only tried to protect us two. But then he couldn't get out of the house in time…" she trails off and then only started crying again, harder than before.
"Chaos…." Shadow whispers, knowing of the legends and Sonic's first-hand accounts of the adventure that had happened before Shadow had been re-awakened. Perfect Chaos destroyed half of Station Square and not even Super Sonic had been able to prevent the hundreds of deaths…Then his gaze snaps back into the present and he sucks the air through his teeth as he suddenly finds himself confronted with a sobbing child and no idea what to do.
"I…I miss him so much…"
Shadow hasn't stroked anyone's head for fifty years, but hopes he isn't making such a bad job out of it now.
"Shhh…" he tries clumsily. Back on the ARK, he had mostly been the one being petted, so imitating Maria when she had consoled him is really the best bet he has to go on.
"Nobody knows how it feels," Cream whimpers, "Mommy doesn't want to talk about it, and the others…the others…none of them have ever lost anybody, not when they were old enough to remember it," she whispers, but then suddenly stops. "But you have, haven't you?" she asks, turning her head to look at him.
Shadow nods "Yes. More than fifty years ago, but I did."
Cream bites her lip. "Does it ever hurt less?"
There is a pause as he looks at her, fierce and hard crimson staring into soft and shy chocolate, her gaze almost begging him to tell her it's going to be okay…Shadow shakes his head.
The rabbit briefly closes her eyes. When she opens them again, she suddenly seems just a little bit older than she should be, but the living on graveyards often do. "I thought so, too, but everyone else said that it would stop…" Cream looks at her father's headstone again, "But they don't know, do they?"
Shadow sighes. "No, and you should be glad for them they don't."
"Yes…" Cream bows her head. "You're right. But why do they tell you to move on when really, you can't?" she asks, large brown eyes focused on burning crimson ones as the little rabbit looks to him as if he knows the answers. Shadow takes a moment to think, wondering what Maria would have said…
"It's because they want you to be happy," he replies finally. "They think it's the way to help you. They wouldn't know anything else because they've never been in your situation."
"But really, it's just words, isn't it?" Cream asks again, her voice tiny. "They don't help. Not at all."
"No," Shadow confirms again. By now they are both sitting in front of her father's grave and the black hedgehog is wondering what an odd turn this day had taken.
"So…then what does help?" the little bunny asks again, once more looking as helpless as when Shadow first found her and as helpless as he had felt himself two years ago when he had been awoken and remembered Maria was dead. He swallows and tries to compose his words carefully. He has never talked about this either, because in Sonic's world, people never seemed to lose anybody …until now.
"Nothing helps against the pain," Shadow says, slowly. "But…it's the good kind. Have you ever heard of the phrase 'it lets you know you're still alive'?"
Cream nods, slowly. "Yes…my mommy said that when she had broken her leg once. She was trying to cheer me up because I was feeling bad that she was in pain and she laughed and said that at least the pain told her it was still there and healing."
"Yes, it's a bit like that," Shadow says, hoping he isn't screwing this up. "You see…every time you think about your dad and it hurts, hurts so badly you think you suffocate, you hurt…" - Maria, how am I supposed to say this? - "because you loved him and he loved you. Just like physical pain lets you know you're alive, this kind of pain means you will not forget him. And it always reminds you that because they loved you they would want you to be…happy…" he trails off, not only because he is not too sure whether he has ever thought of it like this himself, but also because he isn't quite sure where those words have just come from, because they certainly didn't sound like him at all. And then the sky briefly seemed to shine in an even brighter azure than before, just like her eyes, and only for one moment, he has the fleeting feeling that for only a second, they hadn't been alone up here…
"Mr. Shadow…" Cream says, looking at him with a surprised gaze. "That…was really nice…"
"You're telling me," the Ultimate Lifeform replies, sighing briefly. Another breeze ruffles their fur, the graveyard quiet again but for the birdsong and the rustling leaves. It is a curious feeling. Shadow considers almost smiling…
"Can…can you take me home?" Cream asks again. "I flew all the way out here alone, mommy doesn't know I'm gone. She never wanted to come here, so I went by myself."
"Yeah. Sure," Shadow replies easily, surprised how he is actually looking forward to something for once.
"Maybe you can stay for tea," the little rabbit suggests. "And we can talk again. Talking to you was…nice," she says and for the first time since he has found her actually lets see the briefest of real smiles. "Let's give some flowers to Ms Maria before we go, okay?" she asks and Shadow is briefly startled when he suddenly feels the little hand of the rabbit wriggle into his own and attempt to pull him up.
"Yes. Let's," he replies with an actual trace of warmth in his voice. He turns once more to the gravestone of Cream's father. The year of birth has already overgrown with moss, but everything else is still readable.
**** - 2002
Beloved Father and Husband
May your Ears Never Waver in the Wind
"Come on," he says to the little rabbit, slowly starting to walk with her to Maria's part of the graveyard. "I'm sure back home your mother is waiting for you."
"Yes. She'll be very grateful that you found me," the girl replies with a smile and eagerly leans her head against his side, a foreign sensation to the solitary hedgehog, but not an entirely unwanted one.
Hm. Maybe I'm grateful that I found you, too.
He looks over his shoulder at the gravestone for one last time.
Johnny Lightfoot and Maria…maybe I have found a purpose once more.
Hm, just a short li'l piece for you while I am still neck-deep in exams. Hope you liked. Perhaps it is a bit of a companion fic to 'Last Story', its tone is similar, I think. For those who don't know about Johnny Lightfoot, he was a grey rabbit in the British Fleetway Sonic the Comic series, one of Sonic's friends, and he died in the Perfect Chaos arc. His death has been haunting Sonic since. I kind of like the idea that he might have been Cream's father, in another universe. :) Next week exams are over, I hope by then I can actually write another chappie to one of my ongoing fics, instead of scrounging around in the vestiges of my harddrive whether I can't find something as an update for you guys. :P Also, hoorray for me, for finally managing to post a Hurt/Comfort thing for my 'Write for Every Genre!' challenge, especially since this is a sad fic-type I usually hide in clouds of shiny fluff and sparkly comedy from. Better title suggestions for this one are welcome, please read and review? :3