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Unlikely Friendship

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“I’m sorry, sir, you’re a few dollars short.”

Dammit.

I glare at the cashier for a moment, then sigh in defeat. She’s just doing her job, no need to get mad at her. I wasn’t even going to eat this bread, anyways.

“Alright, I’ll go put it back.”

Today was just one of those days I’d like to myself. Not that I have a shortage of them. It’s been raining since early in the morning, so I stayed in my apartment for awhile. I’ve been trying to find a “normal” life, or as normal a life as someone like Shadow the Hedgehog can have. I read, work out, watch garbage on TV, but I’ve never really been satisfied. The closest I’ve come is occasionally spending time with Rouge, usually going out for drinks or watching movies (she has a thing for vomit-inducing romances). Besides that, my job with GUN takes up most of my time, and sometimes, Faker the Hedgehog and His Merry Band of Nitwits need my help against that idiot Doctor, but when I’m not preoccupied with violence, I feel... empty. I was designed to be the ultimate life form. What did they expect me to do with my free time, take up knitting?

Eventually, I decided to go for a short walk. I like the rain. Maria and I always wondered what it was like. I didn’t take a jacket or an umbrella or anything. I just let the cold water wash over my fur. While I was walking, I saw some old lady feeding some ducks in the park. I brushed it off at first, but then I remembered- Maria and I always wanted to do that. Alot of my memories from my early life are still fuzzy, if not gone entirely, but occasionally, something jars a memory loose. I decided to pick up some bread from a nearby store, hoping I had enough pocket change to cover it. Turns out I didn’t.

“Excuse me? Mr. Shadow?”

Oh hell.

I turn around and see that rabbit girl... Cream, is it? Yeah, Cream. She’s standing just inside the doorway, folding up an umbrella, and giving me this dumb smile.

“You dropped this outside.” She holds out her hand, giving me a few dollar bills. Any half-wit could tell its not mine, and that it clearly wasn’t dropped, since its still dry. Is she really trying to help me? More than that, why? I don’t even remember the last time we talked to each other.

“Uh... thanks.” I take the money and hand it to the cashier. Cream says “You’re welcome!” and walks off, still smiling.

Why did I just do that?

“Have a nice day,” says the cashier, with a hint of nervousness in her voice. I have a... certain reputation, in the public eye. Its not unusual for me to get uneasy, sometimes hateful, looks. Alot of people lost friends and family to the Black Arms, and I’m guilty by association. I don’t really remember exactly what went down with the ARK, before I lost my memory, but I’ve read the reports. I can tell it didn’t help, either. Apparently, saving the world three times isn’t enough to earn people’s forgiveness.

I silently take my bread and leave the store, back out into the rain. Its not like my reputation is completely unwarranted. Or that I need other people’s approval, anyways.

I walk up and down the aisle in the medicine section, humming to myself. I feel good for helping Shadow, even if he doesn’t want to seem happy about it. He always looks so grumpy, but I think he’s nice.

My poor Cheese got sick after being out in the rain for too long. Little Chao get sick very easily, but they get better fast. He’ll probably be better by tomorrow, if I get him the right medicine. Still, I feel lonely, being here without him, or anyone. Mother is at home taking care of him, and sent me to get the medicine. She trusts me to be out on my own, and the store isn’t far from our house. I still wish someone was here to keep me company. Someone like Shadow. Oh, I have other friends, too. Amy is like a sister to me, Sonic is always nice, and I think Tails is very cute (to name a few), but I feel safe when I’m around Shadow.

He actually saved me once. Cheese and I got lost in a spooky castle a few months ago. We were hiding from the aliens that were invading our planet, but we got separated. I got scared, and ran through some secret hallways, but I got trapped in a room with no doors after the walls closed in. Amy came in looking for me, and she found Shadow, too. He says he didn’t want to, and that Amy just followed him around, but he was the one who found me. He used Chaos Blast and broke down the wall. I was so scared and glad to see him that I ran out and hugged him. I don’t think he liked that, but he wasn’t mean about it. Amy and I kept looking for Cheese, while Shadow left, clearing the way for us to escape. I’ve always liked him since then.

I finally find the medicine, and go to the front to check out. I hand the nice young lady behind the counter the medicine and the money to pay for it.

“Do you... know Shadow the Hedgehog?” she asks as she gets my change.

I smile and nod at her. “He saved me, once.”

“Really? Huh. Wasn’t expecting that.”

I know what she means. Shadow is big and tough and scary (well, I don’t think he’s scary), and doesn’t seem like he’d be friends with a little girl like me. I wish more people knew him like I do.

“Have a nice day,” she says as I take the medicine in a small plastic bag.

“You too!” I smile, and she smiles back. It feels good to make peoples days better, especially today, with all of this rain. I like the rain, it helps flowers and plants grow, but it still makes things seem... sad. I unfold my umbrella and walk back outside, going back the way I came.

It isn’t long before I hear a distant rumble of thunder. Oh no. Thunder and lightning scare me. I walk a little faster, hoping to get home before the storm gets worse.

As I walk past the park, I look over to a bench and see Shadow again. He’s feeding the bread I helped him buy to the birds. I stop and watch him for a little bit, smiling. Eventually, he runs out of bread, and the birds fly to the shelter of a nearby tree. Now he’s sitting there, all alone in the rain. I’m not smiling anymore. He looks so cold and lonely. I want to help him again...

I close my eyes and lean back, letting the rain drench my face.

Whats the point? It's all a distraction, isn't it? She's gone. All our dreams, everything we wanted to do... pointless. Maria's not here. Why is it so hard to move on?

Eventually, the rain stops. I open my eyes and look down. Its her again. Cream is holding up her umbrella to cover me, getting herself drenched in the process.

“You were getting wet, Shadow,” she says. Oh really? I didn’t notice.

“I’m fine. Do you want something?”

“No, I’m just trying to help.” Still that smile. I think I’m gonna be sick.

I push the umbrella back towards her. “Well, you need it more than me.” Not to be outdone, she hops up on the bench, holding it between us. I look straight ahead. “What’s a kid like you doing out here alone, anyways?”

“Cheese got sick, so I was getting him some medicine. The store isn’t far from my house. Do you live here, too?”

“In the city, yes, but not near here. I’ve been walking for... awhile.” A few hours, really. Plenty of time to just solemnly contemplate. I’m probably miles from my apartment, but I can always skate back in a few minutes.

“Do you want somewhere to stay until the rain blows over?”

Did she really just ask me that?

“I... think I’ll pass.” Her persistence is annoying me, but I’m at least trying to not be outwardly hostile. I’m above bullying a little girl.

“Well, will you at least walk me home? I feel lonely without Cheese.”

I sigh in defeat. She’s got me. A girl like her shouldn’t be out on her own like this, anyways. “Fine. Come on.”

I stand up and take the umbrella from her. Cream gladly follows, showing me the direction to her house. We walk in silence for a little bit, before I speak up.

“You know, you didn’t have to help me back in that store.”

“I know,” she responds, without continuing. Her silence speaks volumes.

You know, she’s actually kind of-

Suddenly, Cream runs out from under the umbrella and jumps into a puddle, laughing and getting absolutely soaked.

“You shouldn’t be doing that,” I warn. “You’ll end up like your Chao.”

“I’m already soaked, whats a little more?” she giggles in response.

“Come here,” I say, sternly grabbing her hand (but being gentle enough to not break her toothpick-thin arm) and pulling her back into shelter, still giggling. I don’t like being ignored.

-sweet. Ugh. There, I said it.

It may not have been proper, and I know Mother won’t approve, but I had fun splashing in the puddle. Even though it was fun, I like that Shadow stopped me. It let me know he cares about me.

We walk on for awhile, him still holding my hand. But after a few minutes, I feel him slow down.

I look up towards him. I follow his gaze, and see some people looking at him from across the street. They quickly turn away once they know he sees them and start talking to each other. My big ears let me hear people talking from a long ways away, but right now, I wish they didn’t.

“Was that really... Shadow?”

“Yeah, I think so. Who's that rabbit girl who was with him?”

“I’ve never seen her. Maybe she’s his nephew or something.”

“He’s an alien freak stitched together by a madman. I don’t think he has family.”

“So why do you think she was with him?”

“I dunno. It gives me a bad vibe. Do you think we should... call someone? I’d rather not be on his bad side, but if he hurts that girl-”

There’s another crack of thunder, but this time, I’m glad. I can’t hear the people talking anymore. I don’t like them talking about Shadow like that. It almost makes me want to cry. Why are people so mean? They don’t know Shadow. I tug on his hand to get him to walk a little faster and look back at him, trying to give him a kind look. He looks so sad. I think he heard them, too.

We finally arrive at my house and walk up the porch. “Mother, I’m home!” I call as we walk in. I take the umbrella back from Shadow, fold it up, and put it away.

Mother walks out of the kitchen, into the entry room. “Welcome back, Cream. Did you find everything alright?” She’s about to give me a hug, but she sees how wet I am. Then she looks over to the door, where Shadow is still standing. “Oh. Hello, Shadow,” she says, smiling at him.

“Shadow walked me home,” I tell her.

“Well, that was nice of him. Thank you, Shadow.”

“You’re welcome,” he says, quietly.

“Here’s Cheese’s medicine,” I say, giving her the bag.

“Cream, you’re absolutely soaked,” she scolds. “Your dress, your shoes... were you jumping in puddles, young lady?” I nod, blushing a little. I knew this was coming. “Well, go to the laundry room and get some dry clothes on. Cheese is resting in your room, so you should stay out.”

I go off to get changed, letting the grown ups talk.

“Once again, thank you for walking Cream home,” repeats Vanilla, as she gets me a towel to dry off. We’ve met a few times before, but rather briefly, so I don’t think we know each other well. She seems oddly welcoming, though. Cream probably takes after her.

“No problem,” I reply, taking the towel and wiping down my quills. “Do you usually let her go out alone like that?”

“It was only a short ways. I’ve learned that she can handle herself quite well on her own.”

I move down to my shoulders and chest, looking back at Vanilla. “Well, I’ve seen her going a bit further than the store...”

“I know what you mean. Yes, I worry about her when she goes of on her adventures with her friends, like any mother would, but I know she can keep herself safe. And she’s always with people like you, who can protect her.”

I pause for a second. People like me? Does she know who I am?

“So I guess she’s told you about me?”

Vanilla nods. “She seems quite fond of you.” Adequately dried off, I hand back the towel. “Do you want to spend some time here until the storm passes? Its the least I can do after you helped Cream.”

“She already offered. I’ll be fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure?” She gives me a concerned look. Does she think I’m a child? “The rain is going to get worse. I don’t want you getting sick.

“I said I’ll be fine.” I’m the Ultimate Life Form. I won’t get sick from a little rain (or anything, for that matter).

“Alright, but you should at least put on some dry socks so you don’t get blisters.” I was a little harsh on my last statement, but she still sounds rather kind.

“Fine.” I guess I’m not immune to those.

Vanilla leaves and returns a moment later with a fresh pair of socks. I take off my skates, change my socks like she asked, then put them back on, leaving the wet socks with her.

“I’m sorry if I’m being a little pushy,” says Vanilla. “I’m a nurse. Its my job to make sure people stay healthy.”

“I understand. You and Cream have a good evening.” Great. Now I’m being polite, too.

“You too, Shadow,” she smiles. I walk out the door and close it behind me. The rain, wind, and thunder are picking up. As nice as it was of her to offer a place to stay, it’s in the best interests of everyone involved that I don’t.

I should probably hurry home. I walk out into the road, get into a position, and kick off my skates-

-only to have them sputter out and fail after a few steps, causing me to fall and tumble on the ground, skip a few feet, and come to rest in a puddle on the edge of the street.

Ow.

Dazed, I stand back up, making sure I don’t have any bad cuts or broken bones. Thankfully, I don’t, but I’m cold and wet again. The rain seems much less inviting now.

My skates must be waterlogged. I’ve been meaning to have Fox Boy check that out. They’re long overdue for maintenance. Its getting late, I’m not going anywhere fast, and it could be hours before I find my way back home.

I look back towards Vanilla and Cream’s house. Looks like I’ll be taking them up on their offer after all.

The only clothes I could find are a pair of orange pajamas. I go back out into the kitchen, where mother is preparing a couple cups of hot chocolate. It doesn’t look like Shadow is here.

“Did Shadow leave?” I ask mother, sitting down at the table.

“Yes, dear. I’m sorry. I know you wanted him to stay.”

I sadly look out into the rain. I don’t get to see Shadow much. Mother must know I’m sad, and she walks up behind me and gives me a hug.

After a moment, she lets go and walks over to the window. “There’s a major storm coming. I hope he gets home alri- Oh my.”

“Is something wrong? Is it Shadow?” I run over to the window, looking out into the street. I see Shadow lying on the ground. It looks like he fell.

“Do you think he’s okay? Should we go help him?” I try to leave and go outside, but Mother puts her hands on my shoulders to keep me here.

“I don’t think he’s badly hurt. Just give him a second...” I watch Shadow, trembling. I hope he isn’t hurt...

After a little bit, he stands up, and I sigh in relief. He shakes off a little bit, then looks back at our house.

“Well, it looks like he changed his mind,” chuckles Mother, as Shadow starts walking back. “I’ll go get him another towel.”

I run to the door to greet Shadow, opening the door for him.

“Welcome back, Shadow!”

“Hm.”

He takes off his shoes and gloves and sets them aside. Mother walks in and hands him another towel, and he quickly dries off. Mother nudges me on the shoulder, to remind me that it isn’t polite to stare.

“Are you alright, Shadow?” she asks. “It looks like you fell pretty hard.”

“I’m alright. Skates malfunctioned, thats all.” He seems embarrassed to be asking, but he asks anyways. “I know I turned you down before, but... can I stay here for awhile? Just until the rain lets up a bit-”

“Nonsense. You stay as long as you need.”

“Thanks,” he sighs, looking down.

“Cream, why don’t you show him to the living room?”

I pick up his shoes and tug on his arm. Once we get to the living room, he sits on the couch in front of the fireplace and I set his shoes out to dry.

“You stay here and warm up,” I tell him. “I’ll be right back.”

Shadow doesn’t say anything, and just looks into the fire. I go to the kitchen, where Mother is finishing getting the hot chocolate ready. She sets two cups on a tray and hands it to me. “Here, go give this to Shadow.”

“Don’t you want any?”

“I’ll have some later. I’ve got some paperwork to do for the hospital by tomorrow.” She has a bunch of important-looking papers laid out on the table. “I’ll be working on them in here, if you need me.”

“Okay, Mother.” I take the tray and start to walk out.

“Oh, and Cream?”

I stop and turn around to look at her.

“I know you’re excited to have one of your friends over, but... be sure to give Shadow his space if he wants it, okay?”

“Yes, Mother.”

I leave and return to Shadow, who’s still sitting on the couch, silent. I set the hot chocolate on the table in front of the couch and sit down next to him.

“Here you go. Getting comfortable?”

“Mhm.” We each pick up a cup and start drinking. Occasionally, I look over at him to see what he’s doing. He just keeps staring into the fire. I wonder what he’s thinking about.

I really shouldn’t be here.

I feel kind of... uncomfortable with Cream sitting next to me. This is how rumors get started. Anyone who knew I was in a room alone with her would definitely start something. He’s an alien freak stitched together by a madman. Last thing I need is ‘child predator’ being thrown in there, no matter how horribly untrue it is.

...okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Like those cowards talking about me behind my back earlier, nobody wants to be on my bad side. Not that I give a damn about them, anyway.

That said, Cream’s going to spill about this to everyone I know at some point. I’ll never hear the end of it. I swear to God, if Sonic mentions it once, I’ll tear the smile right off his face.

Good hot chocolate, though. I’d prefer black coffee, but it’s a bit too late for that, anyways.

I finish it off and set the cup back down. I’ve been transfixed on the fire this whole time. Its a gas fireplace, not a “real” one. Not that I was studying it, but that’s where I focused my gaze. I don’t really know what else to do but think. I’ve never really been in someone else’s house before.

What I’ve been thinking about is Cream. Why is she so nice to me? I get that she’s nice to everyone. She’s a sweet girl, I’ll give her that. But she invited me to her house, pretty much out of the blue. She gave me money to buy food that I didn’t even eat myself. Now she’s keeping me company here. We’re not even talking, but she still seems happy to be with me. I catch her glancing at me every now and then out of the corner of my eye. I look back at her once, and she’s still smiling at me.

Okay, so there was that one time I saved her. I remember that. But I found her almost completely on accident. Not to mention that my whole time in Eggman’s castle was a detour from me helping out a race of genocidal aliens, of which I’m technically one. ‘Alien freak stitched together by a madman’ isn’t that big of a stretch. Once I dug her out (come to think of it, I probably almost killed her- I had no idea she was behind that wall), I ditched both her and Amy to go back to helping said murderous aliens. Sure, I never really killed anyone in that whole thing, and I turned on Black Doom and saved the world in the end, but I caused a lot of collateral damage and still got a lot of people hurt. When I was awoken for the first time, I set the world on a path to total destruction through the ARK, purely for revenge. Grown people haven’t forgiven me for all I’ve done. Is Cream really that forgiving or just that naive?

I like to say I’ve put my past behind me, but sometimes, I wonder who I’m trying to convince...

I quickly realize I’ve been staring at Cream for a few seconds and look back towards the fire. Of course, she doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe she just has some weird crush on me.

“Do you want any more?” she asks, taking our empty cups. I shake my head, and she leaves with them.

Before she returns, the phone rings. I don’t really pay any mind to it at first, until I hear Vanilla talking in the other room. I can’t fully make out what she’s saying, but she sounds concerned.

I get up and walk to the kitchen to see if she needs anything. It could just be related to work, but if there’s an emergency, the least I could do is help her out.

“Okay,” she says on the phone as I walk in. Cream is there, too, listening to her. “I’ll be right over.” Then she hangs up.

“Is everything alright?” I ask.

“That was Amy,” she says, turning around. “Sonic and Tails got hurt fighting with Doctor Eggman. She was looking after them, but the power went out in their apartment a few hours ago, and the boys got hypothermia. She needs my help to take care of them.” Vanilla leaves the room to get a few things.

“Do you think they’ll be okay?” Cream asks me. I look down at her. She looks genuinely worried.

“Probably,” I halfheartedly reassure her. She then leaves to go help her mother.

This should DEFINITELY be my cue to leave.

Vanilla returns a few minutes later with a bag of medical supplies and a rain coat. “Shadow, I hate to ask this, but... do you think you could look after Cream for tonight?”

CUE TO LEAVE.

“Are... are you sure?” I ask, more than a little awkwardly. Does she really trust me to be alone with her daughter overnight? “I don’t really do kids...”

“I can’t leave Cheese here alone, and I don’t want Cream coming with and ending up sick as well. Normally, she can look after herself, it’s just... thunder scares her very easily. All you really need to do is keep her company and make sure she goes to bed on time. She’s a good girl, and she likes you, so she won’t be a problem.”

So thunder scares her. She faced down Metal Sonic, escaped a castle infested with aliens and Eggman’s robots, befriended an angry fire-throwing cat, and who knows what else she’s been through, and thunder scares her. Wow.

“I... uh... okay.” I don’t know what else to do, anyways. The storm’s only getting worse at this point.

“Thank you so much,” she sighs. Cream walks in behind her, and Vanilla turns to face her. “Cream, Shadow is going to take care of you tonight. I’ll call you once I get to Amy’s. Cheese is sleeping in your room, so you can stay in mine. Shadow, you can stay in the guest room.”

“Are you sure you can get there alright?” I ask.

“I called for a cab,” she replies, getting on her jacket and fetching an umbrella. Before she goes, she kneels and gives her daughter a hug. “Promise you’ll be good for Shadow,” she quietly says.

“I promise,” says Cream, and Vanilla gives her a small kiss on the cheek. I look the other way, letting them have their family moment.

Vanilla leaves and heads to the waiting taxi outside, and I return to the couch. I can hear Cream following me. Great. Now we’re all alone. Best thing to do at this point is to just do nothing until Cream falls asleep. Hopefully, she doesn’t ask me to take part in a tea party or anything.

I sit down, but before Cream does, there’s a flash of lightning and a loud crash of thunder. I feel Cream jump on me and wrap her arms around my waist, trembling. Not awkward at all.

“Don’t like thunder?”

She shudders for another minute, then looks up at me, eyes wide with fear.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

I’m probably not giving her the most sympathetic look right now. She blushes, clearly embarrassed, and lets go before sliding down the couch, giving me some space. Another roll of distant thunder makes her jump again, but this time, she just curls up into a little ball and buries her face into her knees.

I try to not focus on her, looking at the fire, but I feel...

Dammit.

I feel guilty for the way I’ve been treating her. She’s been nothing but nice to me, now I’m trying to ignore her while she’s terrified. I’ll probably die if she starts crying.

Its not like she has anything to really be afraid of-

She’s just a kid, for God’s sake. Come on, Shadow. Be nice. It won’t kill you.

“Hey,” says Shadow, getting my attention. I slowly look over at him. I feel bad for jumping on him after the thunder. I just got so scared. Normally, I snuggle with Mother or Cheese when I’m afraid, but neither of them are here. Only Shadow. Its already nice of him just to be here while Mother is gone. I shouldn’t ask too much of him. He didn’t look very happy at first, but now, he looks a little nicer.

“Hey, come here.” He has his arm stretched out. Is he... is he really going to comfort me?

I scoot a little closer, and he puts his arm around my shoulder. I feel better already. I snuggle into him further, hugging him and leaning into his chest. That little white patch of fur is very soft. I can tell he’s uncomfortable, but I feel warm and safe in his arms.

“Th-thank you Shadow,” I say, still a little scared. There’s another clap of thunder, but I barely notice it this time.

“Its okay,” he says, directing my attention towards the fire. “I didn’t think you’d scare so easily.”

“I know it’s a silly thing to be afraid of,” I tell him. “My ears are sensitive, and loud noises scare me.” Even now, I can hear his heart beating. “I bet you’re not scared of anything.”

He waits a second before responding. “I wouldn’t really say that.”

“I understand,” I say, hugging him tighter. “You’re very snuggly, Shadow.”

“I’ve been called a lot of things. I don’t think ‘snuggly’ is one of them.” This makes me giggle a little bit.

“I just thought you could use some comfort.”

“Hm?” I feel him let go of me, and I look up at him.

“I heard what those people said about you.”

“Screw them,” he quickly says. “I don’t give a damn what they think about me.”

“Language, Shadow!” I scold. He looks at me funny for a second, then sighs and looks back at the fire.

“You know what I meant.”

“Well, even if you don’t care, I do.” I take his hand and give him a kind look. “I don’t think it's fair for people to talk about my friends like that.”

Shadow looks at our joined hands. I don’t mean to make him uncomfortable, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

“You really think we’re friends?”

I nod. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because... you know. What people said about me.”

“They’ve never really met you. After you saved me from that castle, I knew you were a good person.”

Shadow chuckles. “You’re too sweet for your own good, Cream.”

Thats the first time I heard him say my name. I know it's a small thing, but it sounds... sweet.

Smiling, I crawl up into his lap and hug him. “Thank you for taking care of me, Shadow,” I tell him, closing my eyes. “We are friends, right?”

He waits a second, then hugs me back. “Yeah.”

I’ve never felt safer or happier in my life.

As soon as I’m sure Cream’s asleep and can’t see me, I let a small smile grace my lips. Nobody’s ever been this kind to me- not in a long time. Not since Maria.

Maria...

Maria’s condition left her with occasional bouts of weakness and fainting. Whenever we spent time together, I’d always be watching out for her, being ready to catch her if she fell. And if she did, I’d hold her, comfort her, until she felt better. I didn’t want to see her get hurt.

I didn’t remember any of this until now. I’ve never genuinely shown any care for someone since I was awoken. Cream may not be dying, but having her here in my arms, feeling safe, because of me... it brought back the memories.

She didn’t just give me her friendship. She gave me back a part of myself.

I look down at Cream. She’s still smiling in her sleep, safe in the knowledge that I’ll protect her from... something. I don’t actually know what she’s thinking right now, but it makes her happy.

You know, this isn’t so bad. I lay back and close my eyes, slowly drifting off. Occasionally, there’s thunder, which makes Cream stir a little in my arms, but she stays asleep.

I don’t know how long I sit there, but eventually, the phone rings in the other room. Probably Vanilla. I get up and carefully lay Cream back on the couch before going to answer it.

“Hello?”

“Shadow? Its Vanilla.”

“Thought so. Get there alright?”

“Yes. I have the boys stabilized.” I must have been out for awhile. “How’s Cream?”

I look around the corner towards Cream. I don’t know why, I know she hasn’t moved. “She fell asleep awhile ago. She’s on the couch right now.”

“This early? And in a storm, no less. Well, if she doesn’t wake up, could you carry her to my room? Its the last one on th-”

KA-BOOM

Startled, I drop the phone and the lights immediately go out.

“SHADOW!” I hear Cream calling from the other room. Unsurprisingly, she was startled awake. Honestly, I was too. There was no delay between the lightning and the thunder, so it struck close- close enough to knock out the power, and made the whole house shake. Even the street lights outside are dead.

“Cream!” I call back, trying to work my way to her. Its pitch-black between continued flashes of lightning. Normally, I can see in the dark, but my eyes can’t adjust. I feel my way around, and listen over the continued thunder, and I can hear Cream... crying.

I work towards her, and a quick flash of lightning lets me see her on the ground. She must have fallen trying to find me. Instinctively, I kneel down and pick her up, and she immediately latches onto me, shaking and crying.

“Sh-Shadow... I-I’m scared...”

“Shh, its okay, I’m here,” I quietly say, softly stroking her ears. Anything to make her stop crying. “It scared me, too.”

She whimpers for a little longer, and the lightning eventually dies down and she falls silent, still shuddering.

“Are you okay?” I ask. She looks up at me, and I can see her eyes, shimmering and wide with fear. I finally indulge her with a small smile. Just this once.

“Shadow...” she whispers. I stand up, still cradling her. “You look so nice when you smile.”

“You’re not hurt, are you?”

“I’m alright... I just got so scared when you weren’t there. I went to find you, but I couldn’t see, and I fell...”

“I’m sorry. Your mother called, I needed to answer.”

“Its okay, Shadow,” she yawns. “I’m still sleepy...”

“Come on, I’ll take you to your room-”

“Actually... will you... stay here with me? I don’t think I can fall asleep again alone...”

“Of course I will.” I’ve all but gotten used to her being with me by now.

“Thank you so much, Shadow.”

I carry Cream back to the couch and lay back down, letting her snuggle up to me and rest her head on my chest. I again close my eyes and listen to the howling wind and rain outside.

Before I fall asleep, Cream speaks up one more time.

“Anyone would be lucky to have you as a friend, Shadow.”

Maria said that to me, once.